“Not one person came to me saying anything negative about it,” Howard said Tuesday night while talking to the media for the first time since the game. “I’ve been getting all positive talk. I respect everyone for it.”
Howard said he also received encouragement from Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart.
“He just told me I made plays, I did good to keep us in that game,” Howard said. “He said he’s proud of me, my performance.”
Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC) faced second-and-goal from the 7 in overtime when Howard ran a sweep right and headed down the sideline. As Georgia’s Josh Harvey-Clemons attempted to knock him out of bounds, Howard dove toward the front right corner of the end zone with his arms outstretched and holding the ball in both hands.
Howard lost possession before the ball crossed the goal line and it rolled out of bounds. Officials initially ruled Howard had scored’, but the call was overturned and ruled a turnover and touchback after replays showed he had fumbled.
Marshall Morgan kicked a 42-yard field goal on Georgia’s ensuing possession to give the Bulldogs the victory. Georgia was ranked sixth at the time of the game, but has since fallen to seventh.
“I don’t think I’d do anything differently,” Howard said. “If I was to, I’d probably lower my shoulder on the guy. ... I wasn’t settling for no field goal. I was trying to win it for my team.”
Teammates said Howard has remained upbeat in practice during Tennessee’s off week.
“He was really upset after the game, but the next day we watched film and he was as positive as ever,” quarterback Justin Worley said. “A situation like that, it can tear a person down, but I think he’s done a great job responding to it.”
Wide receiver Justin Croom said Howard, a sophomore, has served as a leader for the Vols’ young receiving corps. Croom said teammates had no issue with Howard’s decision to dive for the end zone.
“That was an effort play,” Croom said. “We never doubted him. It wasn’t like he just threw the ball away. He was trying to make a play for us to win. Stuff happens.”
Before the fumble, Howard was having the best game of his young career. He had four catches for 70 yards, including a career-long 33-yard reception that set up a touchdown. He also had six carries for 46 yards.
Howard now wants to build on the momentum he established in the first 60 minutes of the Georgia game without dwelling on his turnover in overtime.
“Everyone knows I was trying to give my all, stretching out for that pylon,” Howard said. “I play for my team, my brotherhood. At the end of the day, that’s in the past. I’m just moving forward and focusing on the big picture.”