Following a 30-10 loss to LSU last week, Vanderbilt presented one last opportunity for Tennessee to not only get their first SEC win of the 2017 season, but to avoid their first eight loss season in program history.
The home standing Vols weren’t the only team seeking their first league win entering Saturday’s contest. Vanderbilt, who went bowling last season in a 6-7 campaign, was also looking to end the season in the win column, despite also having a 4-6 record.
Unfortunately, Tennessee wasn’t able to avoid this historic low point in their long and proud history, as Vanderbilt used a strong second half to top the Vols, 42-24 in Knoxville.
Here’s a recap of Saturday night’s action in Neyland Stadium:
Tennessee received the opening kickoff, and the offense got to work early. Guarantano led the Vols on an 85 yard, five minute opening drive which resulted in a one handed grab in the corner of the end zone, courtesy of Marquez Callaway, to put Tennessee up 7-0.
Vanderbilt’s offense responded accordingly, instituting a 75-yard drive of their own, capped off by a nine yard touchdown pass from Kyle Shurmur to C.J. Duncan to tie the game at 7-7 half way through the first quarter.
Tennessee answered on the ensuing drive, going 75 yard in six plays thanks in part to a couple down field shots by Guarantano. A 1-yard rushing touchdown from John Kelly would again put Tennessee ahead, 14-7 with 2:50 left in the first quarter. It was starting to look like this game had the makings of a good old fashioned shootout, a fitting a end for two teams that desperately needed to end their respective seasons on a high note.
While Tennessee’s offense being able to put together back to back scoring drives were a welcoming site to fans, the defense again continued to struggle against the run, especially the rushing attack of Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb. What was even more concerning was that Shurmur was also beating Tennessee’s secondary through the air at will. The Commodores again found the end zone thanks to a Ralph Webb leap across the goal line from two yards out to tie the game at 14 early in the second quarter.
Neither Vanderbilt nor Tennessee have made a living off of their offenses this season, but to put this game in perspective, the first defensive stop of the game for either team came at the 8:11 mark of the second quarter when Vanderbilt’s defense was finally able to force the Vols to punt.
With just under three minutes left in the half, a 30-yard strike from Shurmur to Kalija Lipscomb gave the Commodores their first lead of the game, 21-14 following a drive that ate up nearly five and a half minutes off the clock.
Again, Vanderbilt’s defense came up big, stalling a second straight Tennessee drive. The Vols returned the favor, holding the Vanderbilt offense to go into the half, down 21-14.
Vanderbilt opened the second half with a decent drive that got them into Tennessee territory. But, the Vols defense was able to come up with a big stop as Vanderbilt wasn’t able to convert a 4th and 3, resulting in a turnover on downs. Tennessee’s offense wasn’t able to capitalize despite the good field position on their first drive of the second half, but a 61 yard punt by Trevor Daniel pinned the Commodores back at their own 9 yard line.
Tennessee’s defense continued to bend but not break in the third quarter, as they were able to stuff a quarterback sneak on 4th and 1 to stop a Vanderbilt drive for the second straight time. While the defense wasn’t playing a perfect game, they were doing enough to keep Vanderbilt from scoring and getting the offense back on the field. Half way through the third quarter, it was time for Guarantano and company to get a drive going, down 7.
With only five scholarship players available along the offensive line, it was understandable why Vanderbilt’s defensive front was able to get to Guarantano often. The Vols were held to a field goal, which Aaron Medley nailed from 49-yards out to cut the Vanderbilt lead, 21-17 going into the fourth quarter.
Even though it was the start of the fourth quarter, it seemed like the game was on the line when Vanderbilt faced a critical 3rd and 6 inside the Tennessee 30. Shurmur hit Webb for an 8-yard pick up and the first down. On the following play, Trent Sherfield hauled in Shurmur’s third touchdown pass of the game to extend the Vanderbilt lead, 28-17.
As the fourth quarter wore on, it was clear Tennessee’s defensive woes began to rear their ugly head again, particularly versus the run. Vanderbilt was able to ride their run game behind Webb, and eat up the clock. A 75-yard drive ended in what would be Shurmur’s fourth touchdown pass of the game to go up 35-17. A Guarantano interception set up the Commodores deep in Tennessee territory, and a few plays later, Webb rushed for his second touchdown of the day to make the score 42-17- a far cry from what was looking like a back and forth shoot out in the first half.
Fittingly for senior day, senior tight end Ethan Wolf was able to get Tennessee back on the board with a 20-yard touchdown reception to cut Vanderbilt’s lead, 42-24. Still, it was too little too late for Tennessee as this night belonged to the team from Nashville. For the fourth time in six years, and only the 32nd time in series history, Vanderbilt emerged victorious over Tennessee.
For the second straight season, Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur was able to pick apart Tennessee’s defense through the air, going 20 for 31, four touchdowns, and 283 yards. Ralph Webb added over 200 yards on the ground as Vanderbilt posted close to 530 yards of total offense on the Tennessee defense.
Tennessee’s offense got off to a promising start, perhaps their best of the season in fact, putting up back to back touchdown drives early in the game. In the first half, Guarantano gave fans a glimpse of the future with him as the main signal caller, going 7 for 13 for 108 yards and a touchdown toss. Unfortunately, those numbers were not replicated in the second half, as the Vanderbilt defense held he, and the run game in check. Guarantano finished the game with 183 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
For the third time since 2012, Tennessee will miss post season play with a 4-8 record, and for the first time in program history, they go winless through SEC play. Now Tennessee’s full attention turns to the coaching search. There is talent on this roster, but it has been decimated by injuries and a plethora of off the field distractions. Who ever takes over as the next head coach of team 122 will have some playmakers to work with going into 2018.
If reports out there prove true, we could have some indication who that will be in the next couple of days.
Time of Possession