Leading lowly Akron just 33-26 five minutes into the fourth quarter of Saturday night's game at Neyland Stadium, Tennessee finally cured its hangover with two big plays back to back. Eric Gordon intercepted a pass that bounced off the hands of Akron's Marquelo Suel at the Zips' 19-yard line, then Tyler Bray hit Justin Hunter with a 19-yard strike on the next play to bump the score to 40-26 with 9:01 left. Bray added another TD pass with 1:44 left to produce a deceptive 47-26 final score.
Anyone who attended knows this was not a 21-point game. In fact, the key play of the evening may have come midway through the third quarter, when a fumble by Vol tight end Mychal Rivera was overturned by the replay official. That reversal sustained a drive that four plays later produced a Vol touchdown, broke a 23-23 tie and gave Tennessee the lead for good with 6:47 left in the third quarter.
The Vols finished with 401 passing yards and 633 total yards but that's misleading, too, since the Zips' defense is about as sturdy as a wet Kleenex. Meanwhile, Tennessee's defense allowed a one-dimensional Akron attack to hang around for three quarters.
The Georgia Bulldogs must be licking their chops.
Where the game was won
Ultimately, Tennessee was able to stop Akron some of the time, whereas the Zips were unable to stop the Vols any of the time.
Tyler Bray torched Akron's pass defense for 401 yards and Rajion Neal burned the Zips' run defense for 151 rushing yards.
If Tennessee hadn't stopped itself with an interception, a fumble and several dropped passes, the Vols could have hung 70 points on the Zips.
The big picture
The Big Orange offense still struggles to convert short-yardage situations and the defense continues to experience assignments busts like the one that allowed Akron tailback Quentin Hines to race 70 yards untouched for a second-quarter TD.
Players of the game
|Tennessee's Byron Moore moved into select company with Eric Berry with his performance against Akron.|
When Bray threw a pick-six on his second pass of the night to put Tennessee behind 7-0, you wondered how he'd react. After all, he wasn't exactly the picture of maturity and poise a week earlier against Florida.
This time, however, Bray kept his composure and kept launching. He finished 27 of 43 for 401 yards and four touchdowns.
"I made the wrong read," Bray said of the interception. "I got on the phone with (offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney and he's like 'What are you doing?' I explained it to him and he was like, 'All right, let's go back out there.' I think we got a field goal the next drive."
Actually, the Vols launched a game-tying 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on their next possession. All told, they scored on five of their seven remaining first-half possessions following the pick six.
Defense: Byron Moore
Moore recorded 10 tackles and became the first Vol since Eric Berry (versus Arkansas in 2007) to intercept two passes in a game. His first-quarter interception and 20-yard return gave Tennessee the ball at Akron's 28-yard line. The Vols wound up getting one first down, then kicking a field goal to go up 10-7.
Tied 23-all, Akron was driving for the go-ahead score in the third quarter, reaching the Vol 15-yard line only to have Moore intercept at the 2-yard line and return the ball 15 yards. Had the Zips taken the lead at that point the Big Orange would've been in big trouble.
"Credit to the D-line for getting pressure on the quarterback," Moore said of his clutch pick. "Coach Sal (Sunseri) put us in the right call and had me in the right position to make the play."
Mark Richt's Bulldogs improved to 4-0 by hammering Vanderbilt 48-3.
Aaron Murray completed his first 12 pass attempts and finished 18 of 24 for 250 yards and two touchdowns. His top target was Memphis native Marlon Brown, who parlayed five catches into 114 yards and a TD.
Tailback Todd Gurley had a big day, too, rushing 16 times for 130 yards and two scores for the Bulldogs, who led 27-3 at halftime.
Take a look at some of the highlights from Shields-Watkins Field from InsideTennessee.com in the video below: