Game Recap: UT vs UAB
Derek Dooley had a pretty good idea what he was going to find when he studied the videotape of Tennessee's latest outing. He wasn't looking forward to it.
"Here's what I'm going to see,'' Dooley predicted Saturday.
"We didn't protect very well, we didn't run good routes and we didn't throw it very well.''
But don't give up on the tape until the last scene:
Denarius Moore being carried on the shoulders of his teammates after a game-winning touchdown catch in double overtime.
Tennessee, a 14-point favorite, avoided disaster, snatching a 32-29 victory back from UAB at Neyland Stadium before a crowd generously announced at 95,183.
On the final play, the Vols did protect well enough. Quarterback Matt Simms threw a nice ball into the end zone.
And on a day that will not advance UT's reputation as "Wide Receiver U,' Moore made a terrific catch of the 25-yard pass to end the game and improve Tennessee's overtime record to 9-2.
Acknowledging that the Vols (2-2) didn't do much of anything well in the process of blowing a 23-7 halftime lead, Dooley nevertheless left the stadium a grateful man.
"I've got a policy,'' he said. "I'm never not going to celebrate a win.
"They're hard to come by.''
They're going to get even harder to come by in October. The Vols play four of their next five games away from home and probably won't be favored in any of them until a Nov. 6 visit to Memphis.
Letting the Blazers (1-3) get out of town with the upset would have been a catastrophic blow to a young Tennessee team's confidence.
The Vols took a 23-7 lead into intermission thanks to Prentiss Waggner's 9-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:49 left in the half.
But UAB dominated the second half, tying the score 23-23 on David Isabelle's 6-yard TD scamper with 9:12 to play.
The Blazers even had a chance to win in regulation, but Josh Zahn's 54-yard field-goal try with 38 seconds to play was wide.
No surprise, there. Zahn missed all five field goals in regulation.
UAB's offense torched Tennessee for 544 yards - the Vols countered with a modest 287.
"It was pretty obvious to see we were hurting ourselves consistently,'' said Simms of the offense.
"But you've got to give them credit. They played their tails off.''
Simms started well, hitting Moore with a 13-yard touchdown and Zach Rogers with a 72-yard score, all in the first quarter.
The Vols' offense produced nothing else, other than getting Daniel Lincoln close enough for a 47-yard field-goal early in the second quarter.
"We went into a funk for a real long time,'' Dooley lamented.
While UT's receivers were plagued by dropped passes, their UAB counterparts repeatedly beat Tennessee defenders in one-on-one battles.
Mike Jones whipped cornerback Anthony Anderson for a 52-yard TD in the first quarter and Frantrell Forrest did the same to Eric Gordon on a 27-yard TD in the third quarter.
Then Isabelle scored and the Blazers converted their second consecutive two-point conversion.
Tennessee's lead had vanished and a blocked extra-point kick after Waggner's touchdown suddenly loomed large.
The Vols hoped to get Lincoln close enough for a game-winning field-goal try in the final seconds of regulation but it was too much to ask.
A Luke Stocker catch at the UAB 42 opened the door a crack but Simms was sacked on consecutive plays to end regulation.
UAB won the toss and elected to go on defense.
UT advanced for a third-and-1 at the UAB 16, but a false-start penalty converted the scenario to third-and-6. Lincoln bailed his team out with a 40-yard field goal to go to 7-of-7 on the season.
UAB tied it 26-26 when Zahn finally hit, from 35 yards, and it was on to the second overtime.
The Blazers got the ball first and Tennessee gave up one first down, then held. Zahn hit from 21 yards for a 29-26 lead.
Tennessee trotted out the offense to start at the 25.
On first down, Simms dropped back and threw a strike that Moore hauled in behind two defenders and when he landed in bounds the game was over.
"It was a great play,'' said Dooley.
"It's not like we were moving the ball where we could be methodical. So we took a shot.
"It was a great call by Jim (Chaney, UT's offensive coordinator).
"He didn't want to call any more plays. He was exhausted.''
Simms said Moore was his first read on the play.
"We came off the play-action and the safety was flat-footed for a split second and that was all the time I needed to make my decision.
"I just tried to put it in a place where he could go up and get it.''
And that's what he did.
Simms was 19-of-34 passing for 245 yards. He didn't throw any interceptions a week after giving up two to Florida.
He was sacked five times behind an offensive line that often played three freshmen and two sophomores.
The running game was a no-show. Starter Tauren Poole was knocked out of the game early and David Oku managed only 33 net yards on eight carries.
UAB ran 92 offensive plays to Tennessee's 61. The Vols punted nine times.
"A win's a win,'' said Simms. "We didn't execute the way we wanted to . . . but we survived.''