Vols fight Tigers, rain in bowl deciding loss

November 20, 2017

KNOXVILLE — The conditions at the start of the second half of Saturday’s game were a spot-on encapsulation of Tennessee’s season.

Driving rain reached Knoxville just as the third quarter was about to start, knocking out a bank of lights in Neyland Stadium and drowning the field in a deluge.

What transpired minutes later went a long way to helping LSU pull away in the second half for a 30-10 win over the Vols.

Players from both teams were excited as they emerged from the locker room for the second half only to be greeted by the intense rain. Kendal Vickers recalled a game in high school where it rained like that, though a couple of Tennessee players admitted they’d never played in that much rain before.

Hoke recalled a game during his time as a defensive line coach at Michigan in 1998 at Northwestern where it was raining as hard as it was during Saturday night’s game.

“I think our kids, they embraced it when they came out,” Hoke said.

When it came to actually playing in the condition, though, things were tougher. Tennessee’s return team couldn’t see the ball on the kickoff and had to scramble just to fall on it at their own 3-yard line.

“I saw (the ball) until I looked up and it seemed like someone was dumping a gallon of water in your face,” tight end Ethan Wolf, a member of the kick-return team, said. “I mean, I could see it kind of, I guess. But we should have executed that better and not let that play out like it did.

“I didn’t even notice that half the lights out were out, but it’s another problem, I guess, that we had. But the rain was just coming down like crazy. Once it got up there, you couldn’t see very far in the air.”

With rain, darkness and 97-yards to go, the Vols went conservative. Two false start penalties pushed them back to the goal line, where the ball wouldn’t even stay put once the official spotted it, rolling across the field.

Three unsuccessful plays later, Tennessee punted into the storm and the Tigers started the drive at midfield. Within a few plays, the rain lightened, the lights came back on and LSU running back Derrius Guice found the end zone. It was a big score, handing the Tigers’ a 10-point lead at the time, given the conditions and neither team’s ability to find much offense.

“It was huge,” Hoke said. “We deferred (after winning the coin toss) for a reason, so we could get the ball to start of the second half. We also put some thought into what is the weather was going to be at that time. Do you want the wind in the fourth quarter, depending on what kind of game it was going to be? There’s no question.”

Instead of asking to hold off the start of the second half until the lights came back on, UT opted to go ahead and start.

“It was literally coming down so hard that I couldn’t see some of the guys on the field,” Hoke said. “It was coming right into you too. So I’m sure they had a big problem with it.”

The Vols could have chosen to kick to start the second half, even after deferring to start the game. Hoke said they elected to take the kick to gain the extra possession.

“Possessions are valuable,” he said. “We wanted to steal possessions. We did on the one fourth-and-1 when we got it, we stole another possession. We would have liked to have done that a couple other times.”

Hoke said the SEC officials spoke with both him and LSU coach Ed Orgeron when they came out of the tunnel about continuing to play in the darkened deluge or delaying the start of the second half.

“They came over and said, ‘We’ve got a bank of lights (out),’” he said. “I didn’t see it, because it was raining so hard. They said they got bank of lights that went out. I think they went to Coach Orgeron and asked him, I would think, and they asked me and I said, ‘No, let’s play.’

“I wish we could’ve gotten something going, obviously. We got the ball, but I don’t think so. (LSU) had to play in the same stuff.”