September 12, 2016
With what has been hyped for 2 years or more now, the Battle at Bristol featuring our Tennessee Volunteers against the Virginia Tech Hokies kicked off on Saturday night with a record crowd of over 159,000 making it the largest attended college football game ever.
I do have to preface this article with restating that I live in Hokie Country and have been constantly reminded of the dreaded Chik-Fil-A bowl when was the last time Tennessee took on Virginia Tech. Although Tennessee owned the Virginia Tech series 5-3 in the history books, who looks at those anyway? No one! They look at what happened last. Unfortunately “LAST” was with the weasel who allowed Virginia Tech to dominate Tennessee and then reportedly refused to shake Frank Beamer’s hand after the game. So I don’t place much blame for Hokie fans to make that game last as long as possible. Sorry guys, you’re 6 years is up and in a big way.
With the retirement of Frank Beamer at the end of last year’s season, Virginia Tech went out and brought in Memphis head coach Justin Fuente, who had quickly made a reputation and turning teams around with his jobs at TCU and Memphis, and retained Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster. Last year was a disappointment for Hokie fans as the team went 6-6 getting them into bowl contention against Tulsa where they finished the season 7-6.
Tennessee had a much different year as Butch Jones took the Vols to a 9-3 season finishing with a surprising whipping of Northwestern in the Outback bowl and experts predicting Tennessee as a likely SEC East favorite going into this year. Both teams had rough first weeks as Tennessee struggled against Appalachian State and Virginia Tech had a slow start against Liberty.
As the Battle for Bristol approached Virginia Tech fans seem to gain more confidence as Tennessee fans began to get a little nervous hoping we had learned from Appalachian State and were going to produce an offense that actually worked.
It was clear when the game started that we had not learned from App State and started with the same vanilla offense and shaky offensive line we had last week. Tennessee fans have been calling for Offensive Coordinator Mike Debord’s head for the past year. Virginia Tech jumping out to a 14-0 early lead in the first quarter had Vol fans ready to hunt Debord down, or at least someone responsible for our poor offense. Dobbs having very little time to make any pass play and Hurd and Kamara unable to penetrate good runs certainly doesn’t look like a team set to win the SEC East.
As my cell phone buzzed continuously since kickoff from friends who are both Hokie and Vol fans and I having an itchy trigger finger with my remote, suddenly it all changed. A change in the offensive line, a fumble by the Hokies, and a 3rd string quarterback’s tenacity flipped the script on the Battle at Bristol and the Vols were off and firing on at least more than 4 cylinders. Would the Vols still have won had it not been for Tech’s fumble happy performance? Maybe or maybe not but our offensive line changes gave the Vols time to make some pass and run plays pushing back Bud Foster’s defense on its heels. Not many teams can come back from a multiple fumble game and win but Virginia Tech certainly could be one of them.
Now, while I am personally happy the Vols cranked out 24 unanswered points going into the 4th quarter and seemingly on its way to beating the Hokies 45-24 thus erasing 6 years of torment from my hometown friends, family, and customers, I am still not convinced this is a team that will go 10-2 and capture the SEC East. If it was Butch Jones that finally took the wheel from DeBord and made the offensive changes, then I suggest DeBord pack his bags and let Butch be Butch! This team will not make it through its tough SEC schedule unscathed with our current gameplan. It is time they realize that we either let preseason hype get the better of us and we need to get our heads out of our collective asses or we need a bigger chalk board and a better offensive coordinator.
No matter what the outcome would have been, I would of still flown my orange flags and wore my orange around town because I will always support the Vols and be proud of what they have done in a few short years. Given the talent on this team though, the hype should be real and the Vols should be performing a lot better than the past 2 games have shown and we have only one game, Ohio, to get it together and I beg to the Vol gods that we erase an 11 year slump against the Florida Gators.