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Tennessee escapes with overtime win over Appalachian State


Nine years to the day after Appalachian State cut down a mighty Michigan team in an upset for the ages, they aimed to repeat history deep in the heart of SEC country at No. 9 Tennessee.

Could David slay Goliath again?

For most of Thursday night, the answer looked like yes. The Mountaineers pushed the Vols into overtime but ultimately it was the home team who escaped with a 20-13 win in remarkable fashion.

Quarterback Josh Dobbs dived into the end zone on the first possession of overtime and promptly fumbled the football when clocked by a pair of defenders. Luckily teammate Jalen Hurd was in the right place at the right time and was able to dive on the ball for what proved to be the eventual winning score.

Appalachian State failed to even pick up a first down on the ensuing series and had their last-ditch pass knocked away in the end zone to let Rocky Top breath a collective sigh of relief.

But the game was in large part not about the Vols struggles but just how much the Mountaineers punched above their weight and showed they might be even better than last year’s 11 win campaign showed. Star tailback Marcus Cox rushed for 115 yards and looked like a regular in the SEC. The defense straight up dominated the Vols offense and limited them to just 127 yards rushing.

Appalachian State looked like the better of the two teams for most of the first half. They really made UT fans nervous by jumping out to a 13-3 lead early in the 2nd quarter and seemed to dial up the right play defensively to harass the Vols into two turnovers.

Tennessee appeared to regain momentum early in the 4th quarter however when Dobbs lofted a pass over the shoulder of Josh Malone, who promptly ripped away from a defensive back for a 67 yard touchdown that tied the game. The Vols failed to keep things going however, with a number of drives stalling out as the two teams failed to mount any serious drives to end the 4th quarter.

Ultimately, a few miscues in the kicking game may have proven too much to overcome for the Mountaineers though. Redshirt freshman kicker Michael Rubino missed both an extra point and a 42-yard field goal that would have given the team the upset win.

Still, while Appalachian State will head home to North Carolina with their heads held high knowing they can compete with a top 10 team, the win is bound to call into question all of the preseason love that Tennessee received in being picked to win the SEC East. Vols head coach Butch Jones is likely to hear plenty of complaints from the fan base in the ensuing days if things don’t improve significantly on the field from their disjointed effort in the opener. It won’t be easy to with a big test looming in Week 2 as the team travels to Bristol Motor Speedway to take on Virginia Tech.

Perhaps the only saving grace for the Vols is they won’t go down in history like that Michigan team from 2007 that was upset by Appalachian State. But it wasn’t for lack of trying on Thursday night.

North Carolina formally announces hiring of ex-Tennessee RBs coach Robert Gillespie

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The latest addition to Larry Fedora‘s North Carolina coaching staff has been confirmed.

Following up on reports that surfaced earlier this month. UNC announced Wednesday that Fedora has hired Robert Gillespie. While not confirmed by the football program in the release, it’s expected Gillespie will serve as the Tar Heels running backs coach, a position he’s held for most of his coaching career.

“We are excited to welcome Robert and his family to Chapel Hill,” Fedora said in a statement. “He has a well-earned reputation as a great offensive coach and recruiter, and he has a wealth of experience working with running backs at a very high level. We are happy to have him join our staff as we get into the bulk of spring practice.”

Gillespie fills the hole created by the departure of Gunter Brewer, who left as the Tar Heels’ wide receivers coach for a job with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month. It’s expected that Luke Paschall, currently the running backs coach, will assume Brewer’s role with receivers.

Gillespie, a former Florida running back, spent the past five seasons as the running backs coach at Tennessee. He was originally retained by new UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt before parting ways with the football program shortly after National Signing Day.

In addition to UT, Gillespie has spent time on coaching staffs at South Carolina (2006-08), Oklahoma State (2009-10) and West Virginia (2011-12). He was the running backs coach at each of those stops.

Report: Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa’s thumb injury ‘just a sprain’

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It appears Alabama can breathe a sigh of relief on the injury front.

Tuesday, after the reigning national champions had put the finishing touches on its first practice of the spring, Nick Saban confirmed that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had suffered an unspecified injury to the thumb on his LEFT (throwing) hand.  It was expected that the quarterback would travel to Birmingham for further evaluation of the injury.

While there’s been nothing official yet from the football program or head coach, al.com, citing unnamed sources, writes that the injury “is believed to just be a sprain and he should be able to return to practice in at least a limited capacity at some point soon.”

Until then, Jalen Hurts will take the majority of the reps as the Crimson Tide continues its march through their 15 spring practice sessions.

The rising true junior Hurts, who has started every game but one the past two seasons, and the rising true sophomore Tagovailoa, the national championship game hero who replaced Hurts at halftime of the overtime win, are engaged in a competition for the starting job that, barring a post-spring transfer, is expected to extend into summer camp.  That said, most observers outside of the UA football program fully expect Tagovailoa, because of his proficiency in the passing game relative to Hurts, to earn the job at some point before the Tide opens the defense of their title against Louisville in Orlando Sept. 1.

John Calipari takes page out of Nick Saban’s playbook by warning of (rat) poison

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One’s a dot, two’s a line and three’s a trend as the old adage go and it appears rat poison for college players is now a burgeoning trend.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday ahead of Kentucky’s NCAA tournament game against Kansas State, Wildcats coach John Calipari took a page straight out of Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin’s playbook by warning his team of drinking the media “poison” the past few days.

“My challenge is making sure these kids don’t drink that poison. That poison being we have an easy road. There are no easy roads in this tournament,” said Calipari. “If they drink that poison, we’ll be done Thursday. If they don’t drink the poison, it’ll be a dog fight Thursday — let’s see what happens. Sometimes you wonder why they’re (the media) trying to paint that picture with my team — probably because they’re young and they know they don’t know better.”

Ok then.

At least the term Calipari is using isn’t out of thin air given that Saban infamously ranted on his team buying into the media’s discussion of being a good team as “rat poison” last season. For the record though, the rant by the basketball coach was prompted by a question that didn’t at all involve Kentucky having an easy path to the Final Four but was rather about team and individual goals.

It’s not often you think of Saban as a trendsetter but it seems he was certainly ahead of the curve when it came to labeling media talk as poison.

Harbaugh hits primetime again as Michigan announces spring game under the lights

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Jim Harbaugh is already getting a series on Amazon Prime but now the Michigan head coach is also getting the primetime treatment.

The Wolverines announced on Tuesday that the annual spring game would take place under the lights at Michigan Stadium this year and would be televised live in primetime on the Big Ten Network.

Gates will open to the game two hours prior to kickoff and the maize and blue faithful may try to do their best to get to Ann Arbor early because the school is going to screen an episode of the Amazon series  “All or Nothing: The Michigan Wolverines” prior to the game. This will be the second time in three years that the school will go under the lights to play their spring game at night but obviously the first time there’s a documentary series that will be screened prior to the Wolverines taking the field.

The game may be worth tuning in for to see Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson in action with his new team after arriving in the offseason. The NCAA still has not ruled on whether he will be immediately eligible in 2018 but he is expected to go through spring drills with the team either way, starting this week when practices begin on Friday.