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 dishes out grades for each of Tennessee’s position groups from its win over Vanderbilt:
Jeremy Pruitt rolled with a two-quarterback system against Vanderbilt. True freshman Harrison Bailey made his second career start, but redshirt sophomore JT Shrout replaced Bailey midway through the second quarter. Bailey then began the second half at quarterback before Shrout came back in the game midway through the fourth quarter and finished things out.
Both quarterbacks played well, as they should have considering Vanderbilt had 18 available scholarship defensive players. Bailey was the more effective quarterback. He didn’t turn the football over for the second straight week and threw for two touchdowns and 207 yards on 14-of-18 passing.
Shrout threw one interception and was a little more sporadic with the football. He finished 6-of-13 passing for 90 yards and two touchdowns.
Brian Maurer made one appearance and made the most of his opportunity. On a designed run, Maurer rushed for 22-yards.
Tennessee’s running back had another good afternoon. Eric Gray and Ty Chandler only combined for 22 rushing attempts, but they made the most of their opportunities, rushing for 135 yards and a touchdown. Gray averaged 5.7 yards per carry as he rushed for 74 yards, while Chandler averaged 6.8 yards on his way to 61 yards and a touchdown, respectively.
Freshmen Jabari Small and Dee Beckwith got in on the action as well. Small rushed for 48 yards on six carries, averaging 8.0 yards per carry. Beckwith had just two rushes, but managed to tally 24 yards.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Tennessee’s passing game had a solid outing against the Commodores. Senior Velus Jones was much more of a focal point within the offense for the second consecutive week and it paid off. Jones caught a season-high seven passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. He scored from 23-yards and 74-yards.
Jalin Hyatt also got in on the action, catching five passes for 86 yards and scoring on a slant over the middle of the field that he took 26-yards to the house. Josh Palmer finished with four catches for 53 yards.
Tight end Princeton Fant even got in on the frenzy. The junior caught his first career touchdown from 6-yards out to give the Vols an early 7-0 lead.
Tennessee’s offensive line did pretty much anything it wanted to do against a Vanderbilt defensive line that only had five available scholarship players. In the absence of Brandon Kennedy and Cade Mays, the Vols only gave up two sacks and paved the way for their running backs to average 6.9 yards per carry.
Tennessee’s defensive line had as productive of a game has the unit has had in quite some time. It may have been the best game they’ve had this season. But again, they should have given the circumstances surrounding Vanderbilt’s roster.
Matthew Butler was all over the place, tallying a sack to go along with seven tackles, a forced fumble, a quarterback hurry and a tackle for a loss. Darel Middleton also recorded a sack and a tackle for a loss in the midst of his three tackle performance.
Tennessee generated a more consistent pass rush against the Commodores than it typically has this season. The outside backers also did a solid job of setting the edge and helping hold Vanderbilt running back Keyon Henry-Brooks to 2.8 yards per carry. Senior Deandre Johnson helped lead the charge off the edge. Johnson recorded two quarterback hurries and had three tackles.
Tennessee’s inside linebacker group can thank Henry To’o To’o for their grade this week. To’o To’o was all over the field, tallying a team-high 10 tackles, eight of which were solo tackles. He also had two pass breakups, 0.5 tackles for loss and a 31-yard reception on a successful fake punt.
Quavaris Crouch was just as effective and likely turned in his best performance of the season. Crouch had eight tackles and two tackles for a loss. Five of his tackles were solo stops. Jeremy Banks chipped in three tackles.
Bryce Thompson’s pick-six makes Tennessee’s performance in the secondary look better than what it was. Alontae Taylor, Warren Burrell and Key Lawrence all recorded pass breakups, but Ken Seals passed for 239 yards and two touchdowns despite practically zero weapons at his disposal. Seals averaged 10.9 yards per completion and wide receiver Cam Johnson was wide open on Vandy’s first touchdown of the game.
Tennessee didn’t have Brent Cimaglia available against Vanderbilt after the senior kicker opted out of the remainder of the season earlier in the week. The Vols didn’t have any issues in the kicking game without Cimaglia, however. Part of that was because they didn’t attempt any field goals, but it was also because walk-on Toby Wilson was a perfect 6-for-6 on extra point attempts.
Paxton Brooks turned in yet another strong performance on Saturday. Brooks punted five times and averaged 47.0 yards per punt. His long traveled 58-yards and he downed three inside of the 20-yard line. Two of his punts traveled more than 50-yards.
Unfortunately for Tennessee’s coaching staff, there was nothing they could have done against Vanderbilt to improve the perception surrounding them. A win over this particular Commodores team means nothing, but a loss would have meant everything. Kudos to the staff for not pulling a Georgia State, but even that Georgia State team could beat this Vanderbilt team.
It was very wonderful to see the Vols win a game once again and especially by how much they did so, too. This season overall has been very sad and hearing of a very impressive candidate for our next year’s freshmen to have dismissed his decision to join our team was sad, too. May next season somehow become more like our seasons in the latter half of the 1990’s and continue to be for years to come once again. I have never been to a game at Knoxville in which the Vols lost because of not attending any in the last several years, but I pray when I may attend one once again that it,too will be another victory. Go Vols!