The Tennessee football team returned to its big-play ways against Vanderbilt Saturday, though it didn’t necessarily take the same form it did under Hendon Hooker.
The Vols had six plays of 50-plus yards, and a Joe Milton pass accounted for just one of them in the 56-0 route of the Commodores. Milton finished the game just 11-21 for 147 yards and one TD.
Tennessee displayed its offensive versatility in the first quarter by scoring two TDs on three possessions with varying approaches.
The first TD was on the opening drive of the game, and it was fueled mainly by the Vols’ first big play — a 61-yard toss from Joe Milton to Jalin Hyatt down the far sideline. Jabari Small scored the next play on a three-yard run. Milton was 2-2 on the drive, with a 9-yard completion to Squirrel White setting up the deep ball to Hyatt.
The third drive went 11 plays — seven of which were run plays — and took up four-ish minutes of the clock. The Vols converted two fourth-down conversions on this drive, with the first coming on a 23-yard pass from Milton to Ramel Keyton on fourth-and-four, while the second came on Princeton Fant’s one-yard TD run to cap off the drive.
The two teams exchanged punts in between those first-quarter TDs, but it’s worth noting that on the Vols’ second drive Milton overthrew Hyatt on the far sideline and then had a wide-open White in Vandy’s endzone that he missed on third-and-nine from the UT 33-yard line.
Vandy induced a couple offsides calls on the UT defensive lineman on its first couple drives, but both drives were eventually stalled: the first was caused a fumbled snap by Vanderbilt QB Mike White that resulted in a 12-yard sack for Byron Young, and the second was due to Wesley Walker blowing up a attempted jet sweep that set Vandy back five yards and forced a third-and-eight that VU couldn’t convert.
The Vanderbilt offense squandered a chance for points early in the second quarter when its kicker missed a 39-yard attempt after using 10 plays to go from its own 36 yard-line to Tennessee’s 21.
The two teams exchanged punts again, with another Milton overthrow of White ending a drive. Except this time, Dee Williams took Vanderbilt’s punt 73-yards back to the house for a TD.
The Vols entered the half with a 21-0 lead, despite Milton starting 9-12 and finishing the half 9-16 — as he missed his final four tosses of the second quarter. Tennessee failed to convert a third-down conversion in the half (0-5) but managed to hit on two of its three tries of fourth down.
Since Tennessee opted to receive the ball when it won the opening toss, Vanderbilt got the ball after half and started things off with a 42-yard kick return from Jayden McGowan. The Vols’ defense ended Vandy’s drive with a fourth-and-two turnover on downs thanks to a stop from DBs Walker and Tamarion McDonald.
The long kickoff return and fourth-down stuff ended up playing to the Vols’ favor, as the Tennessee offense took over at midfield. On second-and-12, Jabari Small made at least two defenders at the line of scrimmage en route to a 52-yard touchdown run. That was UT’s longest run play of the season so far.
Big time Tennessee Touchdown from Jabari Small! 52-yard run to the end zone! Go Vols! pic.twitter.com/LVv33573Zx— Rocky Top Hype (@HypeRockyTop) November 27, 2022
After Small’s long run, Vanderbilt looked like it was about to go three-and-out but un-corked a fake punt on fourth-and-six that went for 21 yards, except Dee Williams showed up huge again in special teams by putting his helmet directly on the ball while making the tackle and caused a fumble that Tennessee recovered.
On first down, Milton missed a wide-open Fant running down the seam, but Jaylen Wright took the next play for a 50-yard rushing TD.
Love to see Tennessee’s backs making guys miss in the open field.
UT’s defense gave up one first down on Vanderbilt’s following drive, but made another well-timed, negative play with a Roman Harrison, seven-yard sack on Vandy’s second third down of its drive.
Five of Tennessee’s seven plays on its next drive were runs — all by freshman Dylan Sampson — but it was a TD pass from Milton to freshman wide receiver Walker Merrill that capped off the drive with six points. It was Merrill’s third TD of the season, and it was an on-the-money throw from Milton that extended UT’s lead to 42-0.
One empty drive later, Tennessee’s defense stopped Vanderbilt again on a fourth-and-four at the Vols’ 17-yard line. On the next play, Wright housed an 83-yard touchdown run that reset the season record for longest run from scrimmage for the third time this game, made for the eighth-longest run from scrimmage in school history and stretched the lead to 49-0.
On Tennessee’s next possession, it was Dylan Sampson’s turn. He took the first play from scrimmage, truck-sticked a Vandy defender and outran everybody else for an 80-yard score. That was the Vols’ fourth rush of 50 yards or longer for the game. Gotta love Joe Milton vibing on the replay.
- Jaylen Wright had five carries for 160 yards and two TDs, while Dylan Sampson had 12 rushes for 131 yards and one score. Combined, the team rushed 31 times for 362 yards and six TDs
- Squirrel White led the team with nine targets, though he caught just four of those balls for 18 yards
- The defense had 13 tackles for loss and three sacks — Roman Harrison had two, while freshman DL Tyre West had one
- Tennessee has now won 10 games in the regular season for the first time since 2003