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Thursday Night Snap Judgements: Vols get reality check out of the gates

Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs leaps for the end zone against Appalachian State. He would fumble the ball after getting hit, but Tennessee RB Jalen Hurd would recover the ball for what would be the game-winning touchdown in overtime. AP Photo/Wade Payne

No. 9 Tennessee managed to escape an upset bid from pesky Appalachian State, while Louisville’s Lamar Jackson was unstoppable against Charlotte

The first Thursday night of the college football season packed some drama up and down the east coast. Preseason SEC East favorite Tennessee got a nice little wake-up call from Appalachian State on the anniversary of the day the Mountaineers stunning Michigan in Ann Arbor. They nearly pulled it off again in Knoxville, if not for some special teams miscues and some poor clock management down the stretch.

No. 9 TENNESSEE 20, APPALACHIAN STATE 13 (OT)

It certainly did not go as Butch Jones would have scripted it, but the Vols avoided a Week 1 disaster that would hit the reset button on the 2016 season before getting to the first Saturday. In the end, you take it, learn from it and hope it never happens again.

Appalachian State had a chance to win this game in regulation, but a missed extra-point attempt by redshirt freshman kicker Michael Rubino went wide right, as did a long field goal in the second half. Appalachian State did everything it could to inch closer to a win in Neyland Stadium, including two first half turnovers against the Tennessee offense and controlling the time of possession. They just could not come up with enough plays, and failed miserably in managing the clock in the fourth quarter. It was mind-boggling. The Vols managed to get the game into overtime, and scored the game-winning touchdown when Joshua Dobbs went soaring as he reached for the goal line. He took a crack to the gut as he did, and he dropped the football just before breaking the goal line. Fortunately for Dobbs and Tennessee, Jalen Hurd managed to fly in to dive for the loose ball as a pair of Appalachian State defenders failed to pounce on the ball in the end zone. Hurd was at least five yards away as the ball hit the ground.

Moving forward, it is fair to say Tennessee has some work to do. All of the hype the program and certain players received in the summer months can now be tossed aside. That can be a good thing for a team and program. Tennessee is on the rise, supposedly, but it must learn to deal with the raised expectations. On Thursday night, Tennessee never looked like a team ready to take that next step. Jones must use this experience to help his team realize what it takes to be on the next rung of the ladder. Right now, the rest of the SEC sees Tennessee just as vulnerable as they have been in recent years. This team still has to play Alabama too, but they could very much be a better-looking team by the time they have to worry about the Crimson Tide.

The Vols cannot count on getting so many breaks to go their way as the season rolls along, and no program understands that as well as Tennessee. The good news is Tennessee managed to win a physical matchup and find a way to win against a team that should not have been taken so lightly. Appalachian State looks like a team that could go on to challenge for the Sun Belt title, and I fully expect them to give Miami a good fight in a couple of weeks when the Hurricanes make an interesting and rare visit to Boone, North Carolina. The faith in Tennessee may have been rocked for some, but they could still end up proving to be the top team in the SEC East. We’ll see how Georgia fares this weekend against North Carolina, but Butch Jones needs to make sure his team is ready for Virginia Tech first.

SOUTH CAROLINA 13, VANDERBILT 10

Will Muschamp opened his new head coaching gig with a hard-fought victory on the road against Vanderbilt. Ordinarily, a win against Vandy would not be much to celebrate, but this one is for the Gamecocks. Getting a win in a new coach’s first game is always nice, and to dig out of a 10-0 to come back and do it is even nicer. The Gamecocks stunned Vanderbilt with a go-ahead 55-yard field goal off the leg of Elliott Fry with 35 seconds remaining. It came seven plays after Vanderbilt’s Tommy Openshaw had missed from 45 yards.

I’m still not expecting much out of South Carolina this season or under Muschamp, but they are sitting in first place in the SEC East for at least one week. I’m also not counting on much from Vanderbilt this season, but I was banking on one of their wins coming in the opener against South Carolina. Derek Mason already in trouble?

NO. 19 LOUISVILLE 70, CHARLOTTE 14

Say hello to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, if you are not already familiar with him. Jackson had a hand in eight touchdowns in the first half alone. The Cardinals QB tossed six touchdown passes and rushed for two more before halftime earning him an early rest in the second half. Jackson was Louisville’s leading rusher with 119 yards. Poor Charlotte had no chance. My question is whether or not Louisville can be more balanced without having to rely on Jackson to do everything against tougher competition.

I guarantee you Jimbo Fisher and Florida State took notice. The ‘Noles are coming to Louisville in two weeks.

NC STATE 48, WILLIAM & MARY 14

Some pegged this game as a potential FCS upset, but the Wolfpack took care of business. I did not watch this one closely so will have to go back and watch it later, but on paper it looks like a good start for the Wolfpack. They didn’t have to pull away from the Tribe. They put this game in their firm grasp in the first half and never really let go of it. NC State outgained William & Mary 521-168.

WAKE FOREST 7, TULANE 3

Didn’t watch one second of this game, and probably won’t spend a ton of time watching a replay. It’s going to be a long year for Tulane. It’ll be a long season for Wake Forest too, but even longer for Tulane.

MINNESOTA 30, OREGON STATE 23

I’ll have to go back and watch this one from the start, but the Gophers had three players ejected for targeting and head coach Tracy Claeys had a bizarre moment when he decided to go for two points rather than an extra point to go up eight points with time starting to expire. He can defend the decision all he wants, but it was seemingly an easy call to take the extra free point and be done with it. This one was slightly closer than I anticipated, but some will give credit to Mitch Leidner for saving the day (he was just 13-for-26 for 130 yards and rushed for 76 yards and two touchdowns). All I know is I’m not making any such reactions against a team that was ranked 116th in total defense and won just two games a year ago.

INDIANA 34, FIU 13

It took until the fourth quarter, but the Hoosiers finally found a way to put this game away. Amazingly, it was the defense that got the job done in Miami. This one was all sorts of ugly for Indiana’s offense, and it’s not as though FIU plays particularly strong defense. Indiana’s defense picked off three passes  and two of those were returned for touchdowns. Indiana trailed FIU, 13-12, entering the fourth quarter but quickly took the lead on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Richard Lagow to Danny Friend. Lagow later added a rushing touchdown and Tegray Scales iced the game with a pick-six. I expected much more offense in this game. FIU gets another Big Ten team, Maryland, next week.

UTAH 24, SOUTHERN UTAH 0

Nothing too fancy, nothing too much to worry about. Utah took care of business against an inferior oppoennt with a shutout on the board. The offense did what it needed to, and everybody in Utah red went home happy. On to the next one.

UCONN 24, MAINE 21

The UConn Huskies had to scratch and claw their way to avoiding a home upset against a CAA team (remember they also lost to Towson a few years back too). A late field goal lifted the Huskies to a win, but it did little to inspire me for the 2016 season.

CINCINNATI 28, TENNESSEE-MARTIN 7

A sloppy performance by my preseason AAC East champion pick. Cincinnati turned the ball over three times, gave up 20 first downs and could not put the game away until the fourth quarter. Not a good start for the AAC, despite picking up a 2-1 record.

WESTERN KENTUCKY 46, RICE 14

As I anticipated, Western Kentucky got off to a good start and never really had this one in much doubt. Mike White went off for 517 yards and three touchdowns through the air for the Hilltoppers. You can’t count these guys out of the Conference USA picture, and they showed why Thursday night.

UTAH STATE 45, WEBER STATE 6

This game aired on Twitter, which was kind of neat. If you could get it to work that is. The experience was not very good for me, but it may have been an internet issue on my end because others seemed to enjoy it. So I can’t comment other than to say it looks like Devante Mays had a productive night, rushing for 203 yards and three scores. That will do.

NEW MEXICO 48, SOUTH DAKOTA 21

UNLV 63, JACKSON STATE 13

Again, Internet issues prevented me from getting a chance to catch these two games on the first Thursday night of the season. But it looks as though both MWC programs took care of business, which was to be expected on this night.

IDAHO 20, MONTANA STATE 17

The Internet failed me once more, so this one will be watched later today because I’m just that darn devoted to watching as much football in the Kibbie Dome as possible.

IF THE PLAYOFF STARTED TODAY…

  1. Louisville
  2. California
  3. Utah
  4. Tennessee

THURSDAY NIGHT WEEK 1 HEISMAN TROPHY LEADER

QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Eight touchdowns in the first half. No further comment.

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About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
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