Virginia Tech Turnovers Costly in Loss to Tennessee

BRISTOL, TN - SEPTEMBER 10: Wide receiver Cam Phillips #5 of the Virginia Tech Hokies is stripped by defensive lineman Kendal Vickers #39 of the Tennessee Volunteers in the second half at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 10, 2016 in Bristol, Tennessee. Tennessee defeated Virginia Tech 45-24. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)

It was the biggest stage in the history of college football. The Battle at Bristol had 156,990 fans in attendance to see the Virginia Tech Hokies (1-1) face off against the Tennessee Volunteers (2-0). It was an important game for Virginia Tech in more ways that one. In addition to the giant stage, it was also head coach Justin Fuente‘s first big game as the man in charge in Blacksburg. Coaches are always looking for their first signature win, and this would have qualified for Fuente. The Hokies were also looking for some momentum before heading into ACC play next week against Boston College. Lastly, with these schools only a few hours drive away, Hokie faithful were looking for some interstate bragging rights against one of the SEC‘s legacy programs.

The young Hokies got off to a great start, but five Virginia Tech turnovers cost the Hokies in their upset bid.

Playing a Complete Game

If the game were just one quarter long, Virginia Tech would have had a resounding victory. The game is four quarters, however, and a promising start ended in disaster.

The Hokies started hot gaining a nice two score cushion, but the Virginia Tech turnovers started almost immediately after the second score. A costly miscue from the Hokies gave the Vols the ball inside the red zone early in the second quarter. It didn’t take long for Joshua Dobbs to connect to Jauan Jennings for a five-yard touchdown reception. Before you could blink the Vols would put up another score with Dobbs connecting on a 38-yard touchdown, this time to Josh Malone, equaling the score at 14. Both Malone and Jennings had a significant height advantage on the Hokies’ cornerbacks on what were essentially jump ball fade passes.

It wasn’t long before the Vols would get another score thanks to a 38-yard field goal by Aaron Medley to put Tennessee up 17-14 with five minutes left in the first half. After the Vols forced a punt, they would find score yet again before the half with a nine play, 58-yard drive that culminated with Joshua Dobbs walking in to the end zone to put Tennessee up 24-14 at the half.

Virginia Tech Turnovers

“We obviously have to do a better job either teaching or emphasizing ball security,” Hokies head coach Fuente said. “We’re inadequate, to say the least.”

Tennessee started the second half exactly where they finished the first half. A long, methodical drive put up seven more points extending their lead over the Hokies, 31-14. The Hokies managed to stay in the game a Joey Slye field goal on their first possession of the half. This gave the Hokies a faint pulse in a game that was slipping away faster than slick tires on hot racetrack.

“We just executed,” Dobbs said. “We knew there wasn’t any reason to panic in the first quarter. We knew we would have to score more than 14 points to win the ballgame.”

Joshua Dobbs would pull the Hokies life support with a 27-yard scramble to find the end zone putting the Vols up 38-17. They would extend their lead with a John Kelly four-yard run putting the Vols up 45-14. At this point in the fourth quarter, Tennessee had outscored Virginia Tech 45-3 in two and a half quarters of play.

The Hokies got on the board for the final time of the night with a touchdown run by Shai McKenzie. But it was far too little, and way too late for the Hokies.

Virginia Tech turnovers fueled the Vols victory as much as anything else. The Vols scored after three of the Hokies five turnovers, having to go only 16 total yards for those 17 points. The Hokies outgained Tennessee, were better on third downs than the Vols, and won the time of possession battle as well. In the end, however, the Virginia Tech turnovers allowed the Vols to take home the victory and the Battle at Bristol bragging rights with a 45-21 victory.


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