Tennessee pulls out hard-fought overtime road victory over Pitt, 34-27

·3 min read

It wasn’t always pretty, but No. 24 Tennessee found a way to get a hard-fought road win.

The Vols needed overtime, but were able to prevail 34-27 over No. 17 Pittsburgh, the defending ACC champions.

Tennessee led for most of the second half, but a muffed punt gave the Panthers a short field and allowed them to force overtime via a clutch fourth-and-goal touchdown pass from Nick Patt to Jared Wayne.

On the second play of overtime, Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker hit Cedric Tillman for a 28-yard touchdown to give Tennessee a 34-27 lead. That proved to be the game-winner. Pitt advanced to the 8-yard line on the next possession, but were unable to reach the end zone with a hobbled Patti on in relief of injured starter Kedon Slovis.

The win capped off a nice turnaround for the Vols after a rough start to the game. Pitt jumped out a 10-0 lead in the game’s first six minutes before Tennessee found a groove.

The Vols, with Hooker leading the way, scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions, turning that 10-0 deficit into a 21-17 lead late in the half. And in the final minute of the half, Tennessee knocked Slovis out of the game with a big hit, forcing a fumble in the process. That turnover allowed the Vols to tack on a field goal and take a 24-17 lead into the break.

Pittsburgh defensive back Brandon Hill (9) tackles Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) as he scrambles during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh defensive back Brandon Hill (9) tackles Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) as he scrambles during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

There was far less offense in the second half. The Pitt defense made multiple stops, but Panthers’ kicker Ben Sauls proceeded to miss from 46 and 38 yards. Sauls would later connect from 35 to cut the Tennessee lead to 24-20 before the Vols’ Chase McGrath responded with a 51-yard boot to go back up seven, 27-20, with 8:57 to go.

After the defense forced a three-and-out on the next possession, it looked like Tennessee would seize full control of the game. That’s when Tennessee’s Trevon Flowers muffed a punt, giving Pitt the ball deep in Tennessee territory.

Patti, Slovis’ backup, was hobbled with an apparent leg injury but led a gutsy game-tying drive when he found Wayne in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 4. The clutch connection between Patti and Wayne forced overtime, but the Vols would finally prevail in extra time.

On the second play of overtime, Hooker hit Tillman for the game-winning 28-yard touchdown. The Pitt secondary played great in the second half, but Tillman was able to box out his defender and haul in the game-winning touchdown.

What does this mean for Tennessee?

This is a nice win for the Vols, who lost to Pitt at home last fall. Pitt was playing its backup quarterback throughout the second half and isn't as good as last year's team that featured Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison. Still, it showed a lot of gumption to go on the road and finish a game in a tough environment.

It was especially important for the Tennessee defense, which is considered far weaker than the offense. Perhaps a performance like this will give the Vols confidence with SEC play just a few weeks away.

Before the Vols open conference play, they will host Akron next weekend in a final tuneup. The SEC grind begins at home against Florida on Sept. 24.