In classic Hunger Games fashion, BYU was hungrier for a win than District 12 in their first ever visit to Knoxville, Tennessee. It wasn’t pretty but the odds were in the Cougar’s favor as they won an exciting double overtime game 29-26 at Neyland Stadium. There was plenty of BYU support at the game and it was very exciting that it was the ESPN prime time game.
Tennessee might not seem like an impressive team after that first week loss to Georgia State. That loss alone kept them out of the college football playoff. This was a must win game for Tennessee to even make their way back to a bowl game and for most of the game they were playing to win. That’s why rivals as much as they want to can’t discount the significance of a win like this for BYU.
This is the first time since 1988 that the Vols have started 0-2. BYU tends to break a lot of streaks on the road as they broke Nebraska’s 29 game home opener streak in 2015 and Wisconsin’s 41 game non-conference win streak last year. BYU opponents tend to have better luck at home and there may be something to this. BYU travels well and last year players admitted they get more hyped to show up for those fans on the road who travel for hours and sometimes days to see their team.
So how was this game won? The answer is a solid effort by all position groups and a little magic happened because some BYU players were living right on and off the field. Let’s take a deep dive into the critical plays.
The Defense: The Stop
There is no game tying score if BYU doesn’t get a stop with a minute to go. Tennessee conservatively did try to chew out some clock which is hard to understand considering they were only up by a field goal at the time. They ran it up the middle 3 times and lost yardage. That doesn’t take away from what BYU did. They held the Vols to just 176 passing yards so there’s no guarantee that a delivery via air mail would have switched the odds in the game. Speaking of odds, this stop sparked a large increase in the probability of a BYU win. Fans in social media were quick to point out that until the end of regulation only Lloyd Christmas would have been hopeful about the outcome of a Cougar win.
In all, this stop not the glamorous interception at the start of the third quarter, was the most critical defensive play of the game. The run defense was stout and there would be no chance for the offense to win the game if the defense doesn’t show up. Those guys in the trenches don’t get as much hype as the quarterback with high scoring offenses but they have proven year in and year out that they can get BYU a win in a tough road environment.
The Offense: Pushing it to the limit
There were plenty of plays at the
end of the game that could be the best offensive play of the game but none were perhaps more impactful then that last push in double overtime to get the win. That is obvious because there is no win without the game winning play in overtime. This play is amazing though because it was a very slow yet consistent push into the end zone.
By rule the play isn’t down until there is no forward motion but the BYU offensive line pushed forth and Ty’Son Williams took those final 5 yards to paydirt. This grad transfer has experience against SEC opponents as he beat Tennessee last year as a member of the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Special Teams: Quest for Perfection
Jake Oldroyd has yet to miss an extra point or field goal this year. He was a perfect 3 for 3 against Tennessee and one of his field goals sent the game to overtime as the clock expired. Some missionaries take a while to get acclimated after their return but this young man is still a clutch kicker. He wasn’t the best kicker ever as a freshman but if he keeps up this streak then he could be in the running for kicker of the year after living in Southern Chile for two years with limited workout opportunities.
Bottom Line: BYU had an all around good game and proved they can beat Power 5 teams when they play their best. The question now is whether they can do it against a very talented USC team that surprisingly beat down a ranked Stanford team despite their starting quarterback going down with an injury the first week. At best, BYU got at least one win in the opening four game P5 gauntlet which is to be expected when they schedule that many P5 games a year. P5 teams are tough but the Tennessee’s and Arizona’s of the world are beatable. If they can get to 2-2 or, dare I say it, 3-1 in the gauntlet, they could be pretty good if they avoid any setbacks to G5 teams like they did last year.
Like Katniss Everdeen, BYU volunteered as tribute to schedule an SEC team on the road and were the last team standing against the Volunteers. Time will tell if they start “Catching Fire” or if the “Mockingjay” Ute fans will mock them if they lose to these next two PAC-12 teams.