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5 Observations: Tennessee 28, Vanderbilt 10

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

The game got off to a rocky start for Tennessee, and the weather caused a 30-minute delay for the opening kick-off. But once the Vols were able to settle in, they handed it to “little brother.”

Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt 28-10 in the 2019 regular season finale on Saturday, scoring 21 unanswered points after the Commodores took an early 3-0 lead. The Vols rode the historic performance of freshman running back Eric Gray to victory, and UT’s defense stood strong against a puny Vanderbilt offense.

For the second-straight game, Tennessee totaled over 400 yards of offense and held their opponent to under 300 yards of offense. The Vols amassed nearly 300 rushing yards as a team, easily putting up their highest total on the ground on the season.

The Vols improved to 7-5 and finished the season with a 5-3 SEC record. The win also broke Vanderbilt’s three-game winning streak over the Vols.

For a team that started the year 1-4, Saturday’s victory felt oh-so-sweet.

Here are are five biggest observations from Tennessee’s fifth-straight win on the year.

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Freshman Phenom on Senior Night

Saturday night was supposed to be all about Tennessee’s senior class. Instead, a freshman stole the show.

Running back Eric Gray entered Saturday’s contest against Vanderbilt with just 207 rushing yards and no touchdowns on 62 carries in 11 games this season. The freshman would leave Neyland Stadium on Saturday night with a career day and a UT record.

Gray amassed 246 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries against the Commodores, surpassing Jamal Lewis’ mark of 232 yards in 1997 for the most rushing yards by a true freshman in a single game in Tennessee history. Gray ripped off a 56-yard run in the first quarter to get the Vols on the board, and he scored again in the second quarter on a 94-yard streak to the end zone. That 94-yard rush was the second-longest run in UT history.

Only three other Vols have ever run for more yards than Gray did on Saturday. Chuck Webb, Tony Thompson, and Johnnie Jones are the only Vols to ever run for more yards in a game than what Gray did on Saturday. The freshman’s 246-yard performance ranks fifth all-time in most rushing yards in a single game in program history.

Gray was highly-coveted in the 2019 class by Tennessee and other Power Five programs. On Saturday, he showed why.

Brutal Beginning 

The start of the game was less than ideal for Tennessee. In fact, it was downright miserable.

Tennessee started out the game on offense, and the third play of the game resulted in an interception after a bad throw by Jarrett Guarantano. Vanderbilt was gifted with great field position, and they turned it into a field goal to grab an early 3-0 lead.

Guarantano got off to arguably his worst start in a game as a Vol. The redshirt junior was 0-of-7 to begin the game, including that interception. But he would eventually settle in after that abysmal first quarter of play, completing six of his next 10 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown strike to Dominick Wood-Anderson.

The Vols had just seven points and 91 yards of offense in the first quarter, with 54 of those yards coming on one Eric Gray run. But things would turn around as the game went on.

Better Ending

After that disastrous opening possession that ended in an interception then an ensuing Vanderbilt field goal, it was basically all Tennessee on Saturday.

The Vols would outscore the Commodores 21-0 for the remainder of the first half, and UT ended up with an 18-point victory over Vanderbilt. Gray had his historic day, and Tennessee ended up totaling 417 yards of offense, averaging 7.2 yards per play.

Vanderbilt entered Saturday’s game with one of the worst defenses in the SEC. Despite the awful weather conditions, the Vols were able to take advantage of that.

End of Another Streak

Tennessee ended several losing streaks to opponents this season, but Vol fans are probably especially grateful to see UT’s losing streak to Vanderbilt end.

The Vols’ 28-10 victory over the Commodores snapped Vandy’s three-game winning streak over Tennessee. UT’s 18-point victory is their largest margin of victory over the Commodores since their last win over Vanderbilt in 2015, a 53-28 beat down in Neyland Stadium.

The official Tennessee football Twitter account took joy in the victory as well, trolling Vanderbilt after the victory:

First Time Since…

With the win on Saturday, Tennessee finished the regular season with a 7-5 record, winning five-straight games. It’s the longest winning streak for the Vols since UT finished the 2015 season on a six-game winning streak and started the 2016 season 5-0.

The Vols’ 5-3 SEC record this season is the first time since 2015 UT has finished a season with a winning record in SEC play. It’s also the first time since 2015 Tennessee has gone undefeated in the month of November. This year is also the first time since 2015 that the Vols beat South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt all in the same season in football.

The win also guarantees Tennessee a winning record for the first time since 2016 when the Vols went 9-4.

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