Football season is alive and kicking with one of the most exciting opening weekends ever seen in our town, from Vandy’s opener and the Titans’ preseason finale on Thursday, to UT’s offensive explosion on Saturday, to TSU’s thrilling comeback Sunday night. It was certainly a weekend to remember.
It all began on Thursday night. We will start with the end of the preseason for the Tennessee Titans, and it was a good one. Marcus Mariota played the opening series and connected with Harry Douglas for 59 yards and the first touchdown pass in an NFL uniform for Mariota. The Titans jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead and then watched the guys at the end of the roster try to keep their NFL dreams alive. It is the only allure of a final preseason game. In the end the Titans defeated the Minnesota Vikings 24-17 to finish the preseason 2-2.
A couple of miles away, the Vanderbilt Commodores were embarking on year two under Derek Mason, and though some aspects were better, the result was the same. Vanderbilt was outstanding on defense as a whole, limiting the powerful Western Kentucky offense to only 247 yards. But missed opportunities on offense meant only a 3-0 lead at halftime. Unable to ever really get out of their own way, it spelled a 14-12 loss for Vandy. Johnny McCrary started at quarterback and was not up to the task at all, neither was the offensive line reeling from the injury to Andrew Jelks.
Friday night belonged to high school football giving way to the opening Saturday of college football at last. The Tennessee Volunteers kicked off their season at Nissan Stadium against an offensively talented Bowling Green squad led by former Eastern Illinois coach Dino Babers. A third quarter weather delay only postponed the inevitable for the Falcons as they fell 59-30 to the Vols in a game that had 1,161 yards of offense. Jalen Hurd was sensational with 123 yards and three touchdowns while Joshua Dobbs was 15-of-22 for 205 yards and two scores. They scored whenever they wanted, and so would have BGSU had they not had so many mistakes. The Vols defense must improve.
The weekend culminated on Sunday night for the 17th annual John Merritt Classic, once again at Nissan Stadium. The night is always in honor of Merritt, and this year also of Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones, one of the most fearsome and versatile defensive lineman in the history of the game. Alabama State jumped out early on an 82-yard TD pass in the first quarter. TSU eased into the game behind new quarterback O’Shay Ackerman-Carter. He found his rhythm in the second half as the Tigers controlled the ball, and then threw a touchdown pass to Patrick Smith 38 seconds into the fourth quarter to spark a 21-point outburst in the 24-14 win. It was an encouraging start for the youthful Tigers.
Four games in four days, attended by a listed combined total of 172,979 people was a great beginning to the 2015 season. Next for the Titans is a trip to Tampa to meet the Buccaneers in the regular season opener, a matchup of the top-2 draft picks in Jameis Winston and Mariota. Vanderbilt hosts #10 Georgia on Saturday. The Bulldogs routed Louisiana-Monroe 51-14 in a storm-shortened game in Athens. The Vols face a test with #19 Oklahoma coming to Neyland. The Sooners defeated Akron 41-3 on Saturday. As for TSU, it is the 22nd annual Southern Heritage Classic and Jackson State in Memphis.