It’s not Michigan, but for Appalachian State fans, it was the next closest thing.
No, this game will not be like the 2007 shocker at the Big House, but taking the No. 9 Tennessee Volunteers to overtime in the 2016 season opener on Rocky Top is just as impressive, despite not being able to get the win.
The Mountaineers played strong defense, holding the Vols to only 127 rushing yards while putting constant pressure on Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs and disrupting what was supposed to be a potent Tennessee offense.
Despite taking a 13-3 halftime lead, App State faded in the second half, as missed opportunities in the kicking game and some questionable play-calling late in the game resulted in a 20-13 overtime loss.
Here are some observations that I feel are big positives for App State, a team which stamped itself as the top contender to win the Sun Belt Conference.
- Marcus Cox is the real deal.
The senior running back proved he is a game-changing player by shifting and cutting through a very aggressive Tennessee run defense. Cox ran for 115 yards on 23 carries, and scored on a 33-yard touchdown catch when he made a great grab and scampered down the sideline, diving into the end zone.
Cox did get bottled up in the second half as the Vols’ defense keyed on him, but his first-half performance should put other opponents on notice: Cox is a strong performer.
- Taylor Lamb showed that he is a quick and tough runner, but his passing game was average.
I will give him a break since he was facing a very quick defense, but Lamb was only 15-of-23 for 108 yards. That’s not a great day for him, but he did rush for 29 yards and a 3-yard touchdown on the Apps’ opening drive of the game.
Lamb is a good passer, but the pressure coming from the Tennessee defense may have made him rush some of his passes. The good news is that ASU will not face a defense like this for a long while this season.
- Michael Rubino will be a great kicker.
It’s tough for a freshman kicker to make a game-winning field goal in a loud place such as Neyland Stadium. It is not easy for Rubino to get iced by his own head coach and kick a 42-yard field goal (bad snap and hold notwithstanding) in that situation in the fourth quarter.
- App State’s defense was better than I expected. A lot better.
To hold Tennessee to only three yards per rush, and keep the passing game in check except for one play (the 67-yard bomb that tied the game at 13), the Mountaineers proved that they’re a force on defense.
Linebackers John Law, Kenneth Gilchrist and Eric Boggs were all over the field, preventing Vol running back Jalen Hurd from getting a lot of big runs (his longest was for 13 yards). Also, the defense had a big hit on Dobbs in the overtime as he tried to score. Gilchrist slammed Dobbs as he tried to reach the ball across the goal line, causing the fumble that was recovered by the Vols in the end zone.
The App State defense showed it was fast and strong, and that it can be very physical.
App State will have another shot for a win over a Power Five team in two weeks when it hosts Miami.