The Tennessee Volunteers (7-5, 5-3) came into Saturday’s matchup looking to reclaim the state from the grasp of the Vanderbilt Commodores (3-9, 1-7). The Dores had won five of the last seven - including the last three in a row - at opening kickoff.
Freshman running back Eric Gray led the way with 250 rushing yards and three touchdowns as the Vols snapped Vandy’s three-game winning streak with a 28-10 victory. For context’s sake, Vanderbilt finished with 279 total yards compared to Gray’s 250 yards on the ground.
Tennessee’s first drive on offense couldn’t start have started any worse. Austin Pope’s false start put the Vols behind the chains before the game even started, then Jarrett Guarantano threw a pick on 3rd-and-10. Vanderbilt cornerback Jaylen Mahoney was able to make the play on the right sideline.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn fumbled the ball on Vandy’s first offensive play, but the offense was able to recover. Vaughn went to the sideline with appeared to be a shoulder injury, however, and Vanderbilt would eventually go three-and-out.
But the interception gave the Commodores good field position and Ryley Guay nailed the 41-yard attempt to give his team the lead, 3-0, with 12:38 to go in the first quarter.
Tennessee couldn’t get anything done on its next drive. A healthy Vaughn re-entered the game, giving the Vanderbilt offense its best offensive weapon back, but Kurott Garland came through with a big tackle-for-loss on 2nd down killed the drive and forced the second Commodore punt of the game.
It took until under 6:30 in the first quarter for the Vols’ first first down of the game. Just five plays later, Eric Gray took one 56 yards to the house for the first touchdown of the game. Brett Cimaglia hit the PAT and the Vols now led, 7-3, with 3:04 to go in the first quarter.
Eric Gray picked a good time to score his first career college touchdown pic.twitter.com/zVISFaYcVc— thatSECpodcast (@thatSECpodcast) November 30, 2019
Penalties killed Vanderbilt’s next drive and things became worse on 4th down when a high snap caused a short punt that gave the Vols the ball at the Vanderbilt 38.
Gray was able to get the Vols to the Vandy 26 before the offense faced its fifth third down of the game. Guarantano was able to escape pressure and find Dominick Wood-Anderson on a shovel pass to get the first down. Guarantano then found DWA again in the end zone just a few plays later. Cimaglia’s extra point was good and the Vols now led, 14-3, with 10:51 left in the first half.
After a slow start, Guarantano was finally looking like the quarterback that Vols fans had seen over the last few weeks. The Vols first three drives of the game went for a total of two yards on nine plays. The last two drives up until this point netted 14 plays, 131 yards, and 14 points.
The offensive onslaught continued for the Vols soon after Vanderbilt’s next possession. Gray broke through the defense again, except this time it was for a 94-yard scamper that went for six. Cimaglia’s PAT made it 21-3 with 8:36 left in the first half. Gray now had six carries for 171 yards and two touchdowns on the night.
Eric Gray again for 94 yards!!! TO THE HOUSE!!!!— James O'Saile (@OSaile_) November 30, 2019
171 yards for Gray in the first half so far pic.twitter.com/dpyC8VEeFh
Tennessee couldn’t get anything else done before halftime, but neither could Vanderbilt. The Vols led 21-3 as both teams went into halftime, and it was pretty clear that the first half belonged to the Vols. Tennessee had 248 total yards on 32 plays compared to Vandy’s 89 total yards on 31 plays. If it weren’t for Guarantano’s interception, then the defense would’ve had a first-half shutout.
There were just 30 minutes left until order would be restored in Tennessee for at least the next year. Would the Vols put their foot down on Vandy’s necks, or would the Dores find a way to battle back in the second half?
The Commodores began their first drive of the second half with the news that Vaughn would not return to the game due to the shoulder injury he suffered in the first quarter. Vaughn wanted to come back in and play, but head coach Derek Mason wouldn’t let him back in the game.
Both offenses couldn’t get anything done to start the second half, but Vandy’s offense finally started showing signs of life after Riley Neal found Chris Pierce for a 22-yard reception. Tennessee defensive back was then called for defensive pass interference on the next play and the 15-yard penalty set the Dores up with a 1st-and-10 at the UT39.
But the defense was able to sack Neal for the third time on 3rd-and-8, which killed any chance of extending the drive or scoring any points.
Wood-Anderson came through with a huge 25-yard reception on the next drive. Guarantano made a nice throw down the seam and the Vols’ offense looked to be on the move for the first time during the second half, but the offense stalled at midfield.
Vandy’s offense wouldn’t go down without a fight. Their first drive of the fourth quarter started with a 26-yard completion from Neal to Ben Bresnahan, which was followed up with a 20-yard run by Keyon Brooks.
All of a sudden, Vandy was back in UT territory.
Tennessee had a chance to end the drive on a 4th-and-5 at the UT29, but Neal was able to use his legs to pick up the first down on a nine-yard scramble. The young quarterback stood tall and found Kalija Limpscomb in the end zone for Vanderbilt’s first touchdown of the game.
It was an incredible throw-and-catch that went right through Alontae Taylor’s hands. Guay hit the ensuing PAT and UT’s lead was cut to 21-10 with 11:34 left in the game.
Tennessee’s offense had to get something going on the next drive. It’d been stagnant for too long in the second half.
Marquez Callaway got things off to a good start with a 19-yard catch-and-run out to the UT49. The situation became a bit dire with a 3rd-and-12 a few plays later, but Jauan Jennings came through with a huge 50-yard catch and run down to the Vandy 3.
There was another scary moment immediately after that play when Guarantano and Quavaris Crouch fumbled the handoff on 1st-and-goal, but fortunately, the Vols were able to recover.
Gray punched it in from four yards out on the next play and Cimaglia hit the PAT to make it a 28-10 game with 7:38 to go.
Right after the touchdown, the stadium was cleared due to inclement weather and the delay lasted for over an hour.
Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason made the change from Neal to Deuce Wallace on the next drive, but a holding call eventually killed any chance of progress on offense. Vanderbilt had the punt the ball away with 5:22 left in the game.
The Vols would go on to win, 28-10. The victory snaps a three-game losing streak to the Commodores and officially puts Tennessee on the right path for the 2020 season.
Tennessee (7-5, 5-3) now awaits its fate - and opponent - for the future bowl matchup. Most have suggested that the Vols will play in the Gator Bowl against a Big 10 opponent in Jacksonville, Florida. CBS has them playing against Louisville in the Music City Bowl and ESPN has them playing in the Outback Bowl against Penn State on New Years Day, so it’ll be interesting to see where the team winds up.
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