Tennessee snapped its six-game losing streak on Saturday in Nashville with a 42-17 win over Vanderbilt.
The Vols finished with season-highs in points (42), total yards (540) and passing yards (328). Their 28-first half points were a season-high as well and the most points the Vols have scored in any half this season.
Tennessee passed for 240-plus yards for the third straight game, marking the first time they have done that since the 2012 season. It also marked the first time that UT has passed for 240-plus yards in three straight SEC games since 2009.
The Vols were just as efficient on the ground. They had 200-plus yards rushing (212) for the third time this season and had five players rush for 20 or more yards.
Rocky Top Insider takes a look at the five biggest observations from Tennessee’s win over Vanderbilt:
Harrison Bailey made his second career start against the Commodores and looked good. Bailey was 14-of-18 passing for 207 yards and two touchdowns. He did not throw an interception as he did a great job of protecting the football.
Bailey found Princeton Fant wide open in the middle of the end zone from six-yards out for his first touchdown on the night. He then found Velus Jones Jr. over the middle of the field who took it 74-yards to the house for his second touchdown.
As good as Bailey played, he wasn’t Tennessee’s lone quarterback against the Commodores. JT Shrout also played on Saturday and not because the game was out of hand. Jeremy Pruitt decided to roll with two quarterbacks.
“We just kind of went with a feel for it there,” Pruitt said of the decision to switch quarterbacks after the game. “We had a plan to play JT (Shrout) because he played really well last week, just to see how he would do this week. We thought he did well.
“They’re both young players. The one thing they missed with fall camp is the opportunities to play in live situations. The way the season started early, it didn’t work out that way. So we’re giving them both opportunities.”
So despite Bailey being 7-of-7 in the second quarter, Shrout entered in relief. The redshirt sophomore went on to throw for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 6-of-13 passing. He threw Tennessee’s only interception.
Shrout’s first touchdown was a 23-yard toss to Jones. He then found Jalin Hyatt on a slant over the middle of the field for a 26-yard touchdown, his second of the game.
Senior wide receiver Velus Jones caught 11 passes over the first seven games of the season for 85 yards. He did not catch a touchdown during that stretch.
In the past two games alone, Jones has 11 catches for 195 yards and two touchdowns. The graduate transfer from USC has been much more of a focal point in the offense the past two weeks and it’s led to more offensive success.
“Velus got here at midyear,” Pruitt said when asked about Jones’ recent surge in production. “Only with two practices, that didn’t help him, obviously. And the way fall camp was for a lot of those guys, it didn’t give us a great opportunity offensively, especially in the throw game, to create chemistry.
“With the extra time, it’s helped with Velus. You see him gaining more confidence. He’s more than just a return guy and a rocket sweep guy. He’s a guy that is developing into a good route-runner and catching some balls down the field that can create some explosive plays. Catching some contested balls. Has done it the last couple weeks.”
Henry ‘Playmaker’ To’o To’o
We hadn’t seen the Henry To’o To’o that we’ve all come to expect over the last several games. Part of that is because his teammates haven’t done him any favors. Against Vanderbilt, however, we saw vintage ‘Henry T.’
To’o To’o was as good as he’s been in a Tennessee uniform. He had a team-high 10 tackles, a team-high seven solo tackles, a team-high two pass breakups and 0.5 tackles for loss. One of his pass breakups nearly resulted in a pick-six, but the pass was a little too hot for him to handle.
As if the defensive production wasn’t enough, To’o To’o got in on the offensive side as well. He caught a Paxton Brooks fake punt and took it 31-yards down the field to pick up the first down.
“Henry played tailback in high school,” Pruitt said. “He’s got as good of hands as anybody on the team.”
A rare defensive touchdown
The final score would indicate that Tennessee had zero issues with Vanderbilt. That wasn’t the case, however. After the Vols scored first, Vanderbilt scored 10 unanswered points to take a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter. The Commodores would then get the ball back after Tennessee’s offense failed to piece a drive together and put points on the board.
With Vanderbilt building momentum midway through the second quarter, Vols junior corner Bryce Thompson flipped the game on its head when he picked off a Ken Seals pass and returned it 18-yards for a touchdown. The pick-six gave the Vols a 14-10 lead and they wouldn’t look back after the turnover.
“I thought it was a really good call by Coach Ansley there,” Pruitt said. “We got pressure. Quarterback got out of the pocket, we had the next guy that was there. Bryce made a great play and there were two or three blocks there that helped him get in the end zone.”
No Cimaglia, no problem
Tennessee starting kicker Brent Cimaglia decided to opt out of the remaining two games of the season earlier this week. It left the Vols in quite a pinch, as no other player on Tennessee’s roster had experience attempting field goals in a game.
Walk-on Toby Wilson was called into action in the absence of Cimaglia. Wilson typically only dresses for Tennessee home games, but this week, he made the trip back to his hometown of Nashville to serve as the Vols’ kicker. He didn’t get an opportunity to attempt any field goals, but he was a perfect 6-for-6 on extra point attempts.
“I thought Toby (Wilson) done a nice job kicking the ball, not to have ever kicked in a game before,” Pruitt said. “So that was good for him.”
Tennessee now turns its attention to No. 5 Texas A&M. The Vols welcome the Aggies to Neyland Stadium next Saturday in their final home game of the season. Kickoff on Senior Day is scheduled for 12 p.m. ET.