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5 Observations From Tennessee’s Loss at Vanderbilt

Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI
Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee rolled out to an impressive start at Vanderbilt on Saturday night, jumping out to a 21-7 edge while looking like a team that could be headed to the Sugar Bowl.

Then it all came crashing down. Call it the Meltdown in the Music City.

Tennessee’s potent offense stalled while Vanderbilt piled up yards and points in bunches to come from behind for the 45-34 win.

Here are five key takeaways from the crushing loss for the Vols:

1. Shurmur slings it 

All the talk coming into the matchup centered on Tennessee’s ability to stop the run – something the Vols haven’t done in weeks. And while they certainly weren’t dominant in that area, it was the passing game, led by a red-hot Kyle Shurmur, that burned Tennessee. The sophomore quarterback, who previously had a career high of 279 passing yards, sliced UT apart, piling up 416 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Commodores had two receivers – Caleb Scott and Trent Sherfield – hit the century mark in receiving with Sherfield finishing with a team-high nine catches for 184 yards. Adding to UT’s defensive frustration is the fact that both Rashaan Gaulden and Malik Foreman had golden opportunities for interceptions that would’ve likely turned into pick-sixs. Gaulden dropped his opportunity, while Foreman misplayed his.

2. Offense sputters in second half

Tennessee clicked on offense early, scoring on five of its seven drives in the first half. It never completely stalled in the second half as evidenced by the fact that there was just one three-and-out over the final two quarters. Tennessee, in fact, had drives of 79, 65 and 60 yards in the second half. But poor execution cost the Vols when they got in scoring range. One of those drives ended on a fumble, another on a missed field goal, and then UT’s final drive, which could’ve pulled the Vols back within one score, ended when Alvin Kamara inexplicably went out of bounds short of the first-down mark on a fourth-and-four scenario. An offense that couldn’t capitalize wasn’t enough to cover a defense that couldn’t stop anybody.

3. Tennessee’s “big 3” on offense step up

If you’re looking to assign most of the blame, it shouldn’t go to Joshua Dobbs, Josh Malone and Kamara. Dobbs continued his hot streak, putting up one of the best stat lines of his career – 31-of-34 passing for 340 yards, two touchdowns and 53 yards on the ground as well. Malone had seven catches for 121 yards, while Kamara accounted for 141 yards and three touchdowns on 18 total touches. It wasn’t a flawless performance from those three with Dobbs and Kamara both putting the ball on the ground, but that trio made the offense tick.

“I thought he did some very good things,” Butch Jones said of Dobbs. “Got us out of some plays with his legs, he was efficient, thought he did some things. I thought Josh Malone did some really good things in the throw game as well.”

4. Records fall

It was bittersweet for Derek Barnett, but he did match Reggie White’s school record of 32 career sacks when he took Shurmur down on the final play of the first half. It was tough for him to enjoy, however, after the loss in his hometown:

Barnett will have one more game to try and break the record. For Vanderbilt, running back Ralph Webb needed just 27 yards to become Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher, and he easily got to that mark with 114 yards on the evening.

5. Big-picture thoughts 

This game changes a lot for Jones and Tennessee, no question. This season could’ve been partially salvaged with a strong finish in Nashville and a trip to the Sugar Bowl. That appears to be off the table at this point, and while Jones isn’t in real jeopardy of losing his job this season, the pressure will really mount heading into his fifth season on Rocky Top.

Tennessee’s postseason destination at this point might’ve dropped from a New Year’s Six bowl all the way down to something like the Music City or the Belk Bowl due to Saturday’s performance. As several players noted after the game, that is embarrassing and unacceptable.

Final stats: 

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