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Four Quick Takeaways: Tennessee Dominates Vanderbilt For Season’s 10th Win

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee made easy work of instate rival Vanderbilt, dominating the Commodores, 56-0, to cap off a 10-2 regular season. It’s Tennessee’s first 10 win season since 2007 and its first 10 win regular season since 2003.

After a devastating loss last week, Tennessee refocused and capped off its regular season the right way without quarterback Hendon Hooker.

Here’s four quick takeaways on the win.

Tennessee Takes Control Early

One of my keys for this game was for Tennessee to jump out to a fast start. After defeating Kentucky and Florida the previous two weeks, Vanderbilt was coming into this game with an abundance of confidence. After last week’s loss, Tennessee easily could have come out slow.

That combination led to a strong Vanderbilt start that increased its belief in pulling off an upset victory. Josh Heupel’s team was having none of that.

For the first time all season, Tennessee won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball. The Vols went right down the field with a four play, 75 yard touchdown drive. A Joe Milton bomb to Jalin Hyatt gained 61 yards and set up a Jabari Small touchdown.

The Vols’ defense found a rhythm early and wasn’t often threatened. Tennessee led by 14-0 at the end of the first quarter thanks to a fourth-and-goal Princeton Fant touchdown run. Vanderbilt needed an answer and drove into the Tennessee red zone before missing a 38-yard field goal.

Tennessee didn’t answer with a score but after Vanderbilt went three-and-out and punted on the ensuing drive, Dee Williams took a punt 73 yards for a touchdown. The special teams score extended Tennessee’s lead to 21-0 early in the second quarter and put Tennessee in a great spot.

Defense Bounce Backs From Last Week’s Performance

Tennessee’s defense had by far its worst performance of the season last week at South Carolina. It was, in fact, one of the worst defensive performances in the SEC all season.

The Vols regained their footing this week in Nashville turning in a strong performance against the Commodores. Tennessee shut out Vanderbilt in the first half with the Commodores going three-and-out in three of six drives and never reaching the red zone.

Tennessee’s defense’s first half dominance carried into the second half. The Vols turned Vanderbilt over on downs four times in the second half and Vanderbilt found the red zone just once.

The Commodores changed from quarterback Mike Wright to AJ Swann but little changed for Vanderbilt’s offense.

Tennessee held its instate rival to just 254 total yards while posting its first shut out of the season.

With Tennessee facing Vanderbilt, it’s easy to look past the defensive performance as something that should have happened. However, Vanderbilt’s offense had been better than South Carolina’s this season despite playing two quarterbacks.

The Vols don’t deserve over the top praise for the defensive performance but it wasn’t a given entering the game.

More From RTI: Seven Vols Inactive Against Vanderbilt

So, what about Joe Milton III?

After Joe Milton III lost his starting job to Hendon Hooker two games into the 2022 season, the former Michigan quarterback got an early audition to be the Vols’ starter next season.

So, how did Milton fare?

There was good and there was bad. Milton uncorking a 61-yard bomb to Jalin Hyatt in the game’s first drive showed his bazooka arm and absurd potential. There was other solid parts of Milton’s performance. The quarterback made some nice throws in the intermediate passing attack, took care of the ball and made smart check downs.

There was also some of the same Milton we saw last season. The redshirt senior quarterback threw deep incompletions on third and intermediate and missed open players down the field.

Milton overthrew both Squirrel White and Hyatt when they were open on fly routes but the biggest miss came in the third quarter when Princeton Fant was wide open down the seem and Milton’s inaccurate pass led to an incompletion.

Those are the throws your starting quarterback has to make and Milton missed often last season.

Still, there was good that went along with the bad as Milton ended his night completing 11-of-21 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown.

Tennessee Runs Wild In The Second Half

Despite a strong first half, Tennessee’s run game didn’t truly get going. The Vols didn’t run it poorly but tallied just 67 yards on 18 attempts. That changed in the second half when the Vols ran wild.

Big runs from Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright sparked the success. Small went 52 yards for a touchdown on Tennessee’s second offensive play of the half. A drive later, Wright followed the same path as Small going 50 yards for a touchdown run.

Wright’s long run wasn’t his last. The sophomore running back went 83 yards for the score early in the fourth quarter to give Tennessee a 49-0 lead.

Freshman running back Dylan Sampson couldn’t let Small and Wright have all the fun. The first drive with walk on quarterback Gaston Moore in, Sampson went 80 yards for his first touchdown of the game.

Tennessee totaled 295 second half rushing yards on just 13 carries. Good for an insane 22.7 yards per rush attempt.

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