The Tennessee Volunteers took back the state, and in the process regained their rightful place in the postseason with a 24-17 victory over Vanderbilt in Nashville. With their first win over Vanderbilt in three years, Tennessee is poised for their first bowl trip in four—and the school’s 50th.
It was a largely uneven performance, but it was good enough against the woebegone Commodores. It was also a game that epitomized the season for both: UT winning ugly and showing heart to get it done; Vandy looking lost with absolutely no guidance from the sideline. So, one school is happy and with much reason for optimism, while the other is left to reflect on a failure of a season in every possible way.
On this day, the first strike came from the Volunteers as Cameron Sutton returned a low line drive punt 76 yards for the opening touchdown with 8:18 remaining in the first quarter, 7-0 Tennessee.
Vanderbilt started Johnny McCrary at quarterback. But he was quickly pulled in favor of Patton Robinette, a behavior turned into an art form by Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason this season. Robinette showed more presence, but the results were slow in coming. The way they have been manipulated this year it is a miracle for any Vandy QB to show anything positive, because it has been impossible to get confidence or rhythm this season. Finally, with 5:25 left in the first half, Robinette found Steven Scheu for a 36-yard TD to tie the game 10-10.
Joshua Dobbs reverted back for UT, however, and was not very sure of himself in the passing game. It was clear from early in the game that the Vols were going to do little else but run with the quarterback, and maybe toss short passes only. Dobbs was intercepted twice that counted, three times in total by Vandy’s Torren McGaster—and ended up rushing 21 times to passing 20. Tennessee still has much work to do on offense, as they were outgained 272-262 on the night. Still, a pair of Dobbs TD runs gave UT an insurmountable 24-10 lead.
Ralph Webb scored from three yards out to pull VU within 24-17 with 22 seconds remaining in the third, and the fourth was spent waiting to see if Vanderbilt had a comeback in them. This quickly proved impossible, just not enough positive to use to build a comeback from for that offense. In many ways, a fitting end to the most embarrassing season of football on West End in years.
But this was Tennessee’s day. The Vols showed great improvement overall as the season wore on, despite the step back on Saturday. Sunday night will be when the bowl pairings are announced—and when we will hear where Tennessee goes. It is likely UT will return to the place of their last bowl game, LP Field, where they lost to North Carolina in 2010 under very controversial circumstances.
“Today exemplifies what we have here in Tennessee, proud of our players. This game summarized our season with adversity, great resiliency, and we found a way to win,” said Tennessee coach Butch Jones.
Added UT QB Joshua Dobbs: “We wanted to get to a bowl game and get our seniors to a bowl game and then progress from there. This is a stepping-stone to this program, and it’s definitely an exciting time to be here.”
“Our kids competed hard. There will be changes that need to be made in my program,” said Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason. Yes indeed, many changes.