KNOXVILLE — Tennessee coach Derek Dooley called it the type of game that would have football traditionalists rolling over in their graves. At least it didn’t end with the type of loss that would cause people to start writing the obituaries of Dooley’s Tennessee tenure.
Marlin Lane rushed for a tiebreaking 9-yard touchdown with 1 minute, 25 seconds remaining Saturday at Neyland Stadium as Tennessee came from behind in the final three minutes to edge Troy 55-48 in a game that featured 1,439 combined yards in total offense, the most ever in a Tennessee football game. The previous record for combined total yards in a Tennessee game was 1,329, set in Tennessee’s 59-31 victory over Kentucky in 1997.
Tennessee (4-5) gained 718 total yards, the most in school history. Troy compiled 721 yards, the most ever by a Tennessee opponent.
The two teams also combined to produce the most points in Neyland Stadium history and the second-highest total ever in a Tennessee game. Tennessee trounced American University 104-0 on Oct. 7, 1904.
“Not much to say, other than we found a way to win, which is the most important thing,” Dooley said.
Tennessee’s escape allowed the Vols to avoid their first five-game losing streak since 1988, when they dropped their first six games before closing the season with five straight wins. Tennessee is still hoping to produce its first winning season in Dooley’s three-year tenure.
Vols quarterback Tyler Bray went 29-of-47 for a school-record 530 yards and threw five touchdown passes without an interception. Cordarrelle Patterson caught nine passes for 219 yards and a touchdown. Bray’s 530 passing yards were the second-highest total in SEC history, behind only former Georgia star Eric Zeier, who threw for 544 yards against Southern Mississippi in 1993.
“I could care less about breaking records,” Bray said. “We needed to win.”
Justin Hunter caught nine passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns, including a 46-yarder that tied the game with 2:54 remaining. Hunter’s third touchdown came just 20 seconds after Eric Thomas had put Troy ahead by turning a one-handed grab into a 67-yard gain, his second touchdown of the day.
Deon Anthony threw for two touchdowns, Corey Robinson accumulated 393 passing yards and Shawn Southward ran for two scores for Troy (4-5). Thomas caught six passes for 147 yards, and Chip Reeves had five receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown.
“We thought we could move it,” Troy coach Larry Blakeney said. “I had no idea we’d score 48 or whatever it was. If you’d told me before the game we’d score 48, I’d tell you we were going to win by three or four scores.”
After Hunter’s game-tying touchdown, Tennessee got the ball back by producing a rare three-and-out. The Vols then drove 66 yards for Lane’s go-ahead score. The Vols’ victory finally became secure after Corey Robinson’s desperation pass from the Tennessee 40 fell incomplete well short of the end zone as time expired.
“As bad as we were on defense — and we were really bad — we stopped them (four) of their last five (series), and that’s the reason we won,” Dooley said. “At some point, you have to make a stop. It took us a while to do that.”
Troy fell to 1-15 all-time against SEC members, the lone win a 21-9 decision over Mississippi State in 2001. The Trojans also beat Missouri in 2004, when the Tigers still played in the Big 12.
The Trojans had legitimate upset hopes Saturday because Tennessee’s beleaguered defense hit bottom. The Vols have allowed 35.4 points per game this season and have given up at least 35 points in five consecutive games.
“It’s not Tennessee defense, and it’s embarrassing,” Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt said. “But we got the ‘W.’ “
Tennessee reached the end zone on its first four possessions, led 28-10 early in the second quarter and seemed on its way to a blowout victory until Troy scored 20 straight points late in the first half. For the first time since 2008, Troy reached the end zone on four consecutive drives. Troy’s 20 second-quarter points were its most in a single quarter since the 2010 New Orleans Bowl.
“We just didn’t really have an answer for anything,” Dooley said. “You know, we weren’t slowing down on offense to help the defense. It’s probably what we could have done. We could have slowed the game down. I think that probably contributes to it. When you have two up-tempo teams going, that’s what the numbers look like when neither team can stop the ball. You see it all over the country, a lot of these kinds of games. It’s certainly not anything Tennessee is used to.”
Michael Palardy made a 21-yard field goal on the final play of the half and a 31-yarder early in the third quarter to put Tennessee ahead 34-30, but Troy regained the lead on Anthony’s 3-yard pass to Thomas midway through the third quarter. Will Scott added a 42-yard field goal on the Trojans’ next possession after Tennessee wasted a scoring opportunity when replays showed Pig Howard lost a fumble before going down at the Troy 4.
Bray put Tennessee back ahead early in the fourth quarter a 23-yard touchdown pass to Rajion Neal, who had missed the Vols’ last two games with an ankle injury. Tennessee blew a chance to extend its lead when Vincent Dallas dropped a pass in the end zone with less than five minutes remaining.
That missed opportunity set up plenty of late drama. And in a game full of big plays, Tennessee made the last one.