ATLANTA - Quarterback Quinten Dormady’s first start for Tennessee will be remembered for the finish.
Dormady, who spent the past two seasons backing up starter Joshua Dobbs, hardly looked up to his new challenge at the outset. But his inauspicious beginning was trumped by a clutch finish as Tennessee rallied from a 14-point deficit for a 42-41 double-overtime victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday night.
The secret to Dormady’s turnaround? Simple. He started throwing the ball in the direction of sophomore wide receiver Marquez Callaway.
Callaway didn’t have a catch in the first half. But he spent the second half out-leaping and outrunning the Georgia Tech defense, which must have been wondering: “Where did he come from?”
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He comes from Warner Robins, Ga. And he returned to his home state to score touchdowns on 10- and 50-yard touchdown receptions. He also set up UT’s game-tying score in regulation with a 40-yard catch.
Before Dormady started hooking up with Callaway, he spent too much time throwing to receivers who couldn’t have done much worse if they had been wearing iron gloves.
Sabotaged by his own receivers, Dormady completed only eight of 20 first-half throws for a mere 52 yards. Saved by Callaway, he finished the evening with 20 completions in 37 attempts for 221 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
But the first half will be remembered for drops, not catches. Tight end Ethan Wolf dropped two passes, one on a beautifully thrown ball over the middle that Wolf grabbed but lost when he hit the ground. Jauan Jennings also dropped two passes in the first half, and Tyler Byrd dropped one.
By then, you might have been ready for UT coach Butch Jones to give redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano a shot. But he probably had too many concerns on defense to even think about his quarterbacks.
You never would have guessed that the Vols had eight months to prepare for Georgia Tech’s option-oriented flexbone. The Yellow Jackets methodically battered and baffled UT’s defense in building a 28-14 lead.
Once Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson figured out the soft spots of UT’s defense, namely its mid-section, the yards started piling up. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall, a former running back making his first college start, and fullback KirVonte Benson, who assumed a starting role only after Dedrick Mills was dismissed from the team in preseason, did most of the damage.
Marshall, who is only 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, rushed for 249 yards on 44 carries. Benson ran for 124 yards as Georgia Tech amassed an astounding 535 yards rushing.
However, for all its troubles, Tennessee’s defense had a couple of great plays in it.
Defensive back Rashaan Gaulden thwarted a potential game-clinching, fourth-quarter drive by Georgia Tech when he knocked the ball loose from running back J.J. Green. Micah Abernathy recovered for the Vols at the UT 7-yard line.
For most of the game, defensive end Darrell Taylor was UT’s best performer on a beleaguered front four. But he saved his biggest play for the last when Georgia Tech elected to go for two points in the second overtime.
Taylor did what Tennessee had failed to do for so much of the game. He corralled Marshall, who passed the ball in desperation as he was going to the ground.
When his throw fell incomplete, the Vols had one of their most memorable and unlikely opening-season victories.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on: Twitter.com/johnadamskns.