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VOL. 131 | NO. 198 | Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tennessee Vols Doing What the Rest Of the Country Can’t: Come Back Big

By Don Wade

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Suppose Tennessee’s 5-0 start to the college football season (2-0 in SEC play) included only last Saturday’s impossible comeback victory over Georgia on the Joshua Dobbs Hail Mary pass on the game’s last play? That would be incredible enough, wouldn’t it?

Vols WR Jauan Jennings hauls in a 43-yard TD pass from QB Joshua Dobbs as UT rallied to beat Georgia on the game’s last play Saturday, Oct. 1. It was the Vols’ fourth comeback from a deficit of 14 or more points in the last two seasons.

(Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire)

But the No. 9 Vols have four rallies this season from double-digit points and over the last two seasons they have four comebacks from 14 or more points (Georgia has been victimized twice).

Consider this list of comeback victories:

• Georgia, 2015: Trailed 24-3, won 38-31

• Virginia Tech, 2016: Trailed 14-0, won 45-24

• Florida, 2016: Trailed 21-0, won 38-28

• Georgia, 2016: Trailed 17-0, won 34-31

To better appreciate this feat, ESPN crunched some numbers and found that during this same span, or at least going into last Saturday’s games, the rest of college football (FBS division) was 73-698 when trailing by 14 or more points. That’s a .095 winning percentage.

As Dobbs said after the most recent win over Georgia: “We have the most competitive team in the nation.”

Coach Butch Jones, while also noting his team has won 11 straight dating back to last season, landed on a single word: “Resiliency.”

Hard to argue with any of that. And yet the Vols’ reward is a trip to College Station to play undefeated and No. 8 Texas A&M (5-0, 3-0), and then the next week to receive No. 1 Alabama at Neyland Stadium. But at this point, they don’t seem fazed by any challenge in front of them.

That said, spotting the Aggies or Bama a two-touchdown lead is becoming cavalier about tempting fate. As great as the second-half rallies have been, the first half of UT games have been instructive for their lack of success and focus.

“We have to have more intensity,” Dobbs said.

The Arkansas Razorbacks are the No. 16 team in the nation. They’re 4-1, but at 0-1 in the SEC the only team in the West Division yet to notch a league victory this season.  

If they are get to their first SEC win this Saturday, it will come at home and at the expense of the Crimson Tide. True but daunting stat for the Hogs: Alabama is 9-0 vs. Arkansas under Nick Saban.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema will need poise and precision from junior QB Austin Allen, who has thrown for 1,232 yards with 12 TD passes and just two interceptions that came in the season’s first week. 

Sophomore running back Rawleigh Williams III also looms large. He has rushed for 559 (second in the SEC) yards and is averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

The Razorbacks’ defense is allowing 374 yards per game, 52nd in the country. Their 23.2 points allowed ranks 47th. 

Alabama is allowing just 68.4 yards rushing per game, third in the nation, and bottled up Kentucky’s top back, Stanley “Boom Williams” with just 22 yards on nine carries in a 34-6 victory last week. Alabama also is ninth in the country in points allowed at 13.0 per game. 

On offense, their 44.0 points per game ranks 13th  in the country and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is putting freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts in positions to be successful. Hurts continues to mature his game by the week. Against Kentucky, he hooked up with wide receiver Calvin Ridley for 11 catches, 174 yards, and two touchdowns.

“He’s like the Jameis Winston guy,” Ridley said of the former Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner. “He’s very cool when something’s going wrong.”

The 48-28 loss to Ole Miss last Saturday night didn’t tell us much more about the University of Memphis than the three lopsided wins over Southeast Missouri, Kansas and Bowling Green.

Truth is, the Tigers have not yet played an opponent anywhere close to their own level.

That changes with the 7 p.m. kickoff this Thursday night vs. Temple (3-2, 1-0) at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Memphis ranks second in the American Athletic Conference in scoring defense at 18.8 points per game and Temple ranks third with 20.4 points allowed per game.

Note, too, that while the Tigers are second in passing offense with 308.5 yards per game, the Owls are first in passing defense allowing just 156.6 yards per game.

Something has to give and when it does we should have a much better idea about the Tigers’ true level, although they are at a disadvantage with the short week of preparation.

Tigers among the individual leaders in The American: QB Riley Ferguson is third in passing with 296.5 yards per game and is tied for first with 11 TD passes; wide receiver Anthony Miller is third in receptions (27) and receiving yards (405); Tony Pollard is first in kick return average (27.0); Miller is third in all-purpose yardage (133.5); and Arthur Maulet is first in passes defended per game (1.75).

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