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Tennessee 53 Vanderbilt 28 - An Exclamation Point

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The Vols saved one of their best performances for one of the best defenses they've faced all year, continuing a strong run in the second half of the season.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt's defense was 28th nationally in yards per play allowed coming into today's game.  The most yards they'd allowed all year:  486 last week against Texas A&M.  The Vols got 523.  The most yards per play they'd allowed all year:  6.57 against A&M.  The Vols got 6.79.  That number is good for the third best offensive performance for the Vols all year, just behind Kentucky and Bowling Green.  The Dores were giving up 126 rushing yards per game.  Tennessee went for 331 on 6.4 yards per carry, the most Vandy has allowed all year other than to Georgia with Nick Chubb.

Even as Vandy's offense used a couple of big plays to keep the score close early, their bread and butter was devoured by Tennessee's offense.  The Vols' first team offense punted once, and that after coming off their own seven yard line for a pair of first downs to flip field position.  Tennessee took a script that was good enough to get the job done last week at Missouri and tonight decided getting the job done wasn't nearly as much fun as dominating, so let's make a few tweaks and enjoy ourselves.

One of those changes involved spreading Vanderbilt out early, using both the usual Hurd/Kamara combo in the flat but also a couple of really nice balls from Josh Dobbs.  Working the Commodores to the outside allowed the Vols to gash them up the middle later, with Dobbs, Hurd, and Kamara combining for 46 carries for 312 yards, a ridiculous 6.8 yards per carry.  The things we first hoped this rushing attack could be three months ago have never looked better than they did today.

Since Josh Dobbs became the starter last year the Vols are 13-5 with losses to three SEC division champions, an Oklahoma team currently writing its name in the bracket, and an Arkansas team built to beat them earlier this fall.  And we are rapidly approaching a time when winning 72% of your games will be settling instead of celebrating.

But tonight, this performance and this team deserve praise.  Many, many things felt like they were on the brink when Georgia had a 24-3 lead in the second quarter.  And since then, Tennessee has played winning football with its only blemish in the final minutes in Tuscaloosa.  From 2-3 the team has matured and the conversation has changed, showing forward progress is alive and well in Knoxville.  If the Vols win the bowl game they'll own the first six game winning streak at UT since 2003.  And tonight they positioned themselves to look very good in the selection process next Sunday.

A great job tonight finished a great run for this team in the second half of the season.  Congrats to Butch Jones and Team 119 for continuing to make Tennessee better.