No. 15 Tennessee holds off 4-TD underdogs Ohio 28-19
Joshua Dobbs threw a pair of 20-yard touchdown passes to Josh Malone and ran for a third score as No. 15 Tennessee overcame injuries and a suspension to hold off pesky Ohio 28-19 on Saturday.
Tennessee (3-0) played without four starters - three were injured and defensive back Malik Foreman was suspended for team rules violations. During the first half, the Volunteers (3-0) lost two of its team captains to injuries - cornerback Cam Sutton and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Vols coach Butch Jones said Sutton would be out "an extended period of time." Jones was optimistic Reeves-Maybin could return as early as next week but said the linebacker's status remained uncertain.
"When those two went down, we all got together as a defense and we were determined we were going to win this game for those two," Tennessee linebacker Cortez McDowell said.
Tennessee scored 38 seconds into the game on the first TD pass from Dobbs to Malone. The Vols continued to lead the rest of the way, though Ohio stayed close throughout.
Ohio, a 27-point underdog, was within 21-19 when Dobbs and Malone connected again with 11:07 left in the game. Ohio (1-2) wouldn't threaten again.
Malone has caught four of Dobbs' six touchdown passes this season.
"Our goal was to be 3-0 at this time, and we're 3-0... but I think every person would tell you to a person we've got to be a lot better going into conference play," Jones said.
The Bobcats were seeking their second straight win over a Power Five opponent after winning 37-21 at Kansas last week.
"They've got a good football team," Ohio coach Frank Solich said of Tennessee. "They're very athletic and they played hard. All in all it was good football game. We just kind of ran out of bodies."
Ohio: The Bobcats have never beaten a Top 25 team but had a real chance to pull off a history-making victory if they'd capitalized on opportunities. Ohio didn't recover any of Tennessee's five fumbles, and the Bobcats' offense continually settled for short field-goal attempts rather than reaching the end zone. Jones said the red-zone efficiency for both teams was the difference in the game.
The failure to finish drives has been a recurring problem for Ohio, as Zervos is 13 of 14 on field-goal attempts through the first three games of the season.
Tennessee: Injuries on defense and struggles on offense offer plenty of cause for concern as Tennessee prepares to enter Southeastern Conference competition. Tennessee shuffled its offensive line Saturday but continued to have trouble controlling the line of scrimmage against an Ohio defense that hadn't distinguished itself in its first two games.
Ohio hosts Football Championship program Gardner-Webb in its last game before opening Mid-American Conference play.
Tennessee hosts No. 23 Florida, which has beaten the Volunteers each of the last 11 seasons. This starts a stretch of four consecutive games against ranked teams. Tennessee visits No. 16 Georgia on Oct. 1 and No. 17 Texas A&M on Oct. 8 before hosting No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 15.