The number 19 play in our countdown to determine the best plays of Tennessee’s 2015 season is Evan Berry’s first touchdown, an 88 yard kickoff return against Western Carolina.
From the moment he committed to be a Vol, Evan Berry had high expectations on his shoulders. Evan, the son of VFL legend James Berry and younger brother of VFL and current Pro Bowl NFL safety Eric Berry, came out of high school as a great athlete capable of playing multiple positions. The Vols stuck him at safety, but Evan found his real value on special teams.
Berry finished second in the SEC with an average of 29.5 yards per kickoff return as a true freshman in 2014. Tennessee fans knew he was a good returner, but not many were expecting Berry to come near any NCAA records as a sophomore.
Berry ended up doing just that; his yards per return average of 38.29 is the second best in NCAA history. Berry finished first in the entire nation in kick return touchdowns as well as yards per return, and was named All-American by multiple outlets.
Early in the 2015, Berry broke through and scored his first touchdown as a Vol, running a kickoff back 88 yards against Western Carolina. This play was memorable because it was likely Berry’s best return, and it was the play that first proved his All-American talent to Vol fans.
The Vols called for a very simple return scheme, designed for Berry to run the ball down the right hash. While the blocking was good, Berry made this play special. The All-American cut, juked, and spun his way out of five tackles in between the 30 and 35 yard lines before breaking into the open field. After that, it was all over. Berry’s speed took over and he was off to the checkerboards.
As well as I’ve tried to describe this return, my words simply can’t do this play justice. There is no way to describe how great Berry’s run was. So just watch this video and see for yourself. What a return.
While this was an incredible run by Berry, he didn’t do it by himself. I do want to point out two blockers who especially stood out on this play.
First, Cortez McDowell. The sophomore linebacker is perhaps the best special teams player on the team. McDowell continuously makes great plays in the kicking game, both as a blocker and coverage man. McDowell was able to make a very important block, standing up the defender and opening up a running lane for Berry.
The other outstanding block came from another linebacker, Kenny Bynum. This was an important block because it came on Western Carolina’s safety, the last line of defense in case Berry broke free. Bynum grabbed a hold of his man and never let go, dominating the block. He held the block for a good five seconds, allowing Berry to run unimpeded down the sideline.
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