Tennessee had defended 86 Georgia Tech runs on the night, the vast majority of them poorly. So what chance did the Volunteers have, facing a do-or-die 2-point conversion, clinging to a 42-41 lead in double overtime, of stopping the 87th run?
Somehow, some way, No. 25 Tennessee found a way to corral Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall at the line of scrimmage and secure a victory that seemed impossible just minutes prior.
Georgia Tech spent most of the evening with its offense on the field, trampling a Tennessee defense that spent six months preparing for an offense it had no chance of stopping. Making his first career start, Marshall set Georgia Tech quarterback records by carrying an astounding 44 times for 249 yards and five touchdowns, spearheading a Yellow Jackets offense that totaled 535 yards and six scores on a steady 6.2 yards per carry. The Jackets led 14-7 at halftime, accepted the ball to open the second half and promptly took complete control of the game with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that consumed nearly six minutes — nearly 20 percent of the available game time to that point.
After Tennessee (1-0) found pay dirt to pull within 21-14, Georgia Tech (0-1) again traversed the length of the field, moving 75 yards in a brief — for them — two minutes and 34 seconds, as a 6-yard Marshall run gave the Jackets a 28-14 lead with 13:08 remaining in the game.
But it was after that point, when much of the Big Orange faithful had had enough and departed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, that the Tennessee offense refused to be stopped — particularly wide receiver Marquez Callaway and running back John Kelly. Callaway pulled Tennessee back within 28-21 after breaking a tackle and streaking 50 yards for a touchdown.
Still, Georgia Tech had a chance to put the game away with another methodical drive and appeared ready to do just that when J.J. Green slashed and dashed for a 36-yard gain to the Tennessee 7-yard line as the clock slunk below five minutes to play, but Rashaan Gaulden raced from behind to poke the ball free and Micah Abernathy hopped on it for the Vols. Tennessee needed seven plays to move the required 93 yards, with six of those plays and 87 of those yards coming from either Callaway or Kelly. Kelly (19 carries for 128 yards and four touchdowns, with five grabs for 35 yards) touched it five times for 35 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown run, and Callaway (four grabs for 115 yards and two scores) caught a 40-yard bomb in double coverage. The combination of Callaway and Kelly carried another first-time starting quarterback in Quentin Dormady, who completed 20-of-37 throws for 221 yards and two touchdowns, but was much less efficient than this numbers showed when not throwing to Callaway or Kelly.
With the score now tied for the first time in the game, Georgia Tech had a second chance to put it away, moving 56 yards in 1:26 to set up a 37-yard field goal try for Shawn Davis. After his first attempt sailed far wide left, Davis’s second try was blocked.
With each defense appropriately gassed and disheartened, the two offense took turns slicing through their counterparts in overtime: Georgia Tech opened by scoring in five plays, and Tennessee answered in three. The Volunteers scored in three plays again at the top of the second frame, and Georgia Tech answered in four. Sensing his defense had no chance to stop Tennessee in the third overtime or in perpetuity, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson put his offense back on the field to win it in double overtime. It felt like the right call at the time and still does now — in all, Georgia Tech converted 13-of-18 third downs, achieved 33 first downs to Tennessee’s 18 and possessed the ball for 41:27 — but Tennessee came up with its only stop of the night, the only one it needed.