The University of Tennessee football team usually plays in front of 100,000-plus fans every Saturday, so they are used to working in front of a large audience. But last Saturday night, the team played in front of 150,000 fans who filled up the Bristol Motor Speedway to watch the Volunteers take on the Virginia Tech Hokies. While a lot of the fans picked Tennessee in the NCAA football lines, the team did not look very good early in the game.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones admitted that he was worried about how his team would perform in front of the largest crowd to ever watch a college football game. Jones' concerns were validated early in the game as his team looked out of sorts against a Virginia Tech team that isn't known for its offense.
On their first possession, the Hokies drove down the field, but failed to convert a field goal opportunity. The Volunteers got the ball but went three and out, giving the ball back to the Hokies. Virginia tech drove down the field again, this time they ended the drive with a touchdown.
Two minutes after the Hokie scored, Travon McMillian broke a 69 yard run to give the Hokies a 14-0 lead. With two quick scores and an offense that didn't seem to have trouble driving down the field, the Hokies looked like they were on their way to an easy victory, but the Volunteers weren't going to go down without a fight.
Early in the second quarter, the Hokies fumbled the ball and Tennessee was able to convert the fumble into a score. By the end of the 2nd quarter, the Volunteers had reeled off 24 straight points, and took a 10 point lead into the half.
In the second half, the Volunteers fans got their confidence back and became very loud again as they cheered their team on.
While Tech head coach Justin Fuente said he didn't think the crowd noise played a part in the outcome of the game, senior running back Sam Rogers thinks it did.
Rogers said the team takes pride in what it does and realize that the field is the same size whether they are on the road or at home. However, Rogers added as much as teams try to block out the noise, especially when they are at home, it can still have an impact on how they play.
While Rogers believes the crowd noise had some impact on the team's performance, he noted that the team got too high on itself after taking a 14 point lead, which is something he said they can't afford to do against a good team, especially when playing on the road.
Turnovers also played a big role in the outcome of the game between the two teams. The Hokies outgained the Volunteers 400 yards to 330 yards, but the Vols were able to force 5 turnovers, and gained 239 yards on the ground, allowing them to control the clock.
Despite the loss, the Hokies feel it was a game they could have won if they were more disciplined. One thing both teams agree on is that playing in Bristol was an experience they will never forget.