It’s a rule nobody even knew existed. Tennessee Football was clinging to a 20-14 lead on the road against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the third quarter. Jalen Milroe had just connected on a deep shot to cut the lead to a touchdown after the Vols went into halftime up 20-7.
Cameron Seldon fielded the kickoff at the four-yard line and returned it to the 23. It seemed like the Vols would start their drive at a normal spot and attempt to maintain control of the game. However, the referees respotted them the ball at the four based on a technicality.
Apparently, another Tennessee Football player, not Seldon, called fair catch. Now, typically, a fair catch on the kickoff automatically spots the ball at the 25. However, the refs ruled that because it was a fair catch that the Vols returned, they would have to start at the four.
Now, there is no obvious evidence that this is the rule, but it’s what was ruled on the field. As a result, Josh Heupel had to call three straight run plays and punt it just to get UT out of its own end zone, somewhere they can’t afford to be when they are on the road.
Regardless of whether or not it was a bad call or a miscue, it cost the Vols a drive. Bama got a field goal on their next drive, and by that point, their defense was well-rested, and the Vols’ defensive front seven was tired, which is how the game changed.
Rocky Top could have lived with Milroe’s touchdown. Those deep shots are a natural part of his play, and he’ll hit two a game. However, the miscue on the return after that set in motion the inevitable collapse. Tennessee Football, even after getting the ball on the next drive still leading, couldn’t recover.