The score was so close on Saturday that instant replay might have been helpful in determining the winner.
With the “game” on the line on the final play, Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley found tight end Brendan Downs in the corner of the end zone for an apparent game-winning touchdown for the orange-clad offense. But the elation turned to disappointment when coaches and officials determined that Worley — wearing a non-contact jersey — had in fact been “sacked” before releasing the ball.
The white-jerseyed defense was instead declared the winner, by a final score of 90-89. Or something like that.
“There’s a method to the madness,” said first-year coach Butch Jones with a smile when told by a reporter afterwards that it was impossible to keep up with the scoring system.
There were real hits, a few scuffles and a down-to-the-wire finish — whether manufactured or authentic — that had players fighting for victory.
And all of this came on March 16, only the fourth spring practice of the season.
“I think you have to find out about individuals when their blood pressure goes up and how they perform when there’s something on the line,” Jones said.
The scrimmage was situational, meaning the ball was placed on a certain yard line with a certain scenario for each unit to respond to. But the tackling was live (except for the quarterbacks) and the intensity was fearsome for this early in spring ball.
Jones also estimated there were more than 500 people in attendance between media, visiting recruits and family members of current players on hand for Family Day.
“I would say that it gives us an audience,” said offensive tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, who has been limited this spring after offseason surgery. “Especially with you guys (the media) being here and seeing what all we do. Some guys get stage fright, especially the young guys, so it’s good to be able to get out.”
Some of those young guys acquitted themselves well, including receiver Cody Blanc who caught several nice passes in both the scrimmage and drill format. Quarterback Nathan Peterman threw an interception, but also directed some quick scoring drives. Worley, his rival for the starting job, also appeared to have a good day.
“You definitely have to be on your ‘A’ game day in and day out, especially with Nathan,” Worley said. “Both of us are trying our hardest and giving it all we have to win this spot so we have to come out and show it.”
On defense, Riyahd Jones, in his first year on the team via junior college, worked largely with the first team and continued what appears to be a solid spring camp. He scooped up a fumble and scored a touchdown when Peterman and running back Alden Hill botched a handoff. Reserve defensive back Geraldo Orta had the game’s lone interception.
The tempo of practice — and the tempo of Jones’ offense — remained at supersonic speed. Jones even threw a wrinkle into practice when he grabbed the mic and declared a “sudden change,” throwing out the practice script and abruptly jumping to a later portion of the scrimmage.
“If you’re not in shape, it would be a challenge,” sophomore Alton “Pig” Howard said of the fast pace. “But it’s just about being in shape, knowing your assignment and just executing the plays.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.