Recap: The Meltdown in Music City

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With the Sugar Bowl in sight and triumphant wins against Florida and Georgia in the rear view mirror, Tennessee (8-4, 4-4 SEC) suffered an “unacceptable” season-ending loss to Vanderbilt (6-6, 3-5 SEC), falling 45-34.

    On the same night he tied Reggie White’s career sack record, Derek Barnett called the loss “unacceptable” and “embarrassing.”

    “We should never lose a game like this,” Brett Kendrick said. “It just makes me sick thinking about them storming the field like that…it reminds me of my freshman year.”

    Tennessee’s offense mustered three points in the second half against the Commodores, who scored 21 unanswered to win the game.

    How it Happened

    The biggest challenge for Tennessee coming in was their ability to stop Vanderbilt’s potent rushing attack. The Vols came out in a 4-3 defense set, and had success stopping Ralph Webb and the Vandy rushing game early. Senior Kenny Bynum stuffed Webb on 4th and short to stop Vandy’s opening drive.

    On the ensuing drive, The Vols went 56 yards on five plays, capped off by a 14 yard Alvin Kamara touchdown run, who made it look easy.

    But Vanderbilt would answer. The ‘Dores quickly drove down the field to tie things up, when Kyle Shurmur found a wide open Bailey McElwain for an 18 yard touchdown catch.

    Tennessee’s offense would find some rhythm after that on the legs of Alvin Kamara, who hauled in a 21 yard screen pass and a one yard jump into the endzone to give the Vols a 21-7 lead. Kamara was virtually unstoppable, scoring three touchdowns by the middle of the second quarter.

    But Vandy refused to quit behind an unlikely hero. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Shurmur broke his single-game career high (279) in the first half, throwing for 289 yards. Tennessee’s defensive backs had trouble slowing down Vandy’s passing attack all night.

    “There were a number of times where we were right there in position but we just didn’t play the ball in the air, or we’d slip and fall down,” Butch Jones said after the game. “Sometimes we’re applying pressure to the quarterback, so I think it was a combination of all those things…but again, fundamentals, details, it was lacking.”

    Both defenses would get a stop to open the third quarter, and after a 79 yard drive taking 3:49 off the clock, Aaron Medley tacked on a 25-yard field goal to give UT a 34-24 lead.

    After another Vandy touchdown drive and a Josh Dobbs’ fumble to end the third quarter, Vanderbilt relied on senior Ralph Webb, playing in his final home game. The ‘Dores marched right down the field once again, and Darrius Simms cruised into the endzone for a three yard score to give Vandy its first lead of the game.

    Trailing 38-34, Tennessee started inside its own 20 with 12 minutes to play. Alvin Kamara and John Kelly took over, carrying Tennessee to the Vanderbilt 13. But after Josh Dobbs was sacked for a loss of seven, Tennessee was forced to try a 37 yard field goal. Aaron Medley pinged it off the right upright, giving the ball right back to Vandy.

    The Commodores run game was unstoppable. A 39 yard run by Dallas Rivers on third and two put the ball at the Tennessee 32 with just over five minutes to play. Ralph Webb then took it to the house from 20 yards out, extending Vandy’s lead to double digits, 45-34 with 4:06 to play.

    Tennessee’s next drive started well, but on fourth and four, Tennessee threw a check-down pass to Alvin Kamara, who stepped out of bounds two yards shy of the line to gain. Vandy would take over and melt the clock all the way down to zero, clinching the win and bowl eligibility for the first time in the Derek Mason era.

    Barnett Joins White

    Derek Barnett joined Reggie White at the top of UT’s all-time sack list, but that was the last thing on his mind.

    “I don’t play this game for records, I play this game for victories,” Barnett said. “We got a bowl game, we can’t dwell on this. Football is a humbling game, you can’t dwell on it too long.”

    A Nashville native, Barnett called the loss to his hometown’s ‘Dores “unacceptable.”

    “I’m embarrassed.”

    Moving Forward

    Coming out of a disappointed locker room, Butch Jones made it clear that his team wasn’t distracted by a potential Sugar Bowl bid looming down the road.

    “Our goal to be 1-0 every week never changes. Obviously it was a very disappointed locker room.”

    Jones went on to discuss his team’s injuries, and how UT’s lack of depth made a difference against Vanderbilt.

    “I don’t ever want to use injuries as an excuse because football is a game of ‘next man up,'” Jones said. “It just comes down to execution and they out-executed us. We didn’t do a good job of sustaining drive. Again, we can’t turn the ball over and we have to be able to answer sudden change as well.”

    Joshua Dobbs played one of his best games in a UT jersey, going 31-for-34 with 340 yards, two TDs and one fumble. After the game, he emphasized the importance of moving on from this loss.

    “The opportunities were there, we just didn’t take advantage of it,” Dobbs said. “We still have another game so we’ll have to regroup and finish out our season strong in that final game.”

    “We have got to come together,” Derek Barnett said. “We can give up, and not go into the bowl game with the right mindset, or we can finish the year off right and send the seniors out the right way.”