COULD'VE, SHOULD'VE, WOULD'VE, BUT DIDN'T: 134 penalty yards and three turnovers see Vols fall
On the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York City, the Pittsburgh Panthers traveled to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville Tennessee to take on the Tennessee Volunteers in the Johnny Majors Classic; a game to honor the legendary player-coach that meant so much to each university.
Following a less-than-stellar performance against the Bowling Green Falcons last Thursday, Tennessee fans were looking for an improvement in the passing game, while simultaneously looking for the Vols to limit sixth-year Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett, who threw for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns in a dominating performance against a substandard UMass team last Saturday.
To start the game, Tennessee's defense looked to be playing inspired football. In their first defensive possession, the Vols limited the Panthers to just -4 yards, including a blocked punt, to set the Tennessee offense up on the Pittsburgh three-yard line on their first play of the game. In one play, Tennessee hit pay dirt behind the legs of Jabari Small, giving the Vols a 7-0 lead early in the game.
Tennessee limited Pittsburgh to just 16 total yards on their next two offensive possessions, before settling for a Chase McGrath field goal after failing to capitalize in the passing game. Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton missed on a handful of passes due to overthrows, including one that saw Cedric Tillman running wide open down field for what would have been a walk-in touchdown.
The Vols kept the Panthers off the scoreboard in the first quarter, but much like the second quarter against Bowling Green, things took a quick downturn. Milton was sacked, fumbling the ball to the Panthers, and was injured on the play. Hendon Hooker was inserted into the game at quarterback. Tennessee's lone touchdown of the quarter came on a screen pass from Hooker to Jimmy Calloway, who ran up the right sideline to tie the game at 20-20, before the Panthers added a touchdown in the final minutes of the second quarter to take a 27-20 lead into the half.
As play resumed in the third, Tennessee again shot themselves in the foot, this time with a sack-fumble by Hooker, allowing Pittsburgh to regain possession. After holding the Panthers to -11 yards on their ensuing possession, the Volunteer offense failed to produce points, punting the ball back to Pittsburgh.
11 plays and 60 yards later, the Panthers hit pay dirt, taking a 34-20 lead. Tennessee answered with a six-play 60-yard drive that was capped-off by a Jacob Warren touchdown reception from Hooker, drawing the Vols back to within a touchdown, 34-27. However, again, Pittsburgh answered with a six-play 75-yard touchdown drive to retake a two possession lead early in the fourth quarter, 41-27.
Failing to give up, the Vols continued to fight, capping-off a seven-play 61-yard touchdown drive in 2:51, drawing the score back to within a touchdown with 10-minutes remaining in the game. Again, refusing to give up, the Vols stopped the Panthers from scoring on the ensuing possession. After working down the field behind the legs of Hooker, Tennessee found themselves inside the 15-yard line, one a fourth-and-inches spot. On a questionable play call, the Vols were stopped in the backfield, allowing the Panthers to regain possession, leading by a touchdown.
Tennessee stopped Pittsburgh, and began working their way down field, before the Panthers came up with an interception, and drove down the field, killing the remainder of the clock, securing a 41-34 victory in Knoxville.
The Vols had 134 penalty yards and three turnovers in the loss.