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Five Critical Moments: Tennessee Defeats Vanderbilt To Cap Off Regular Season

Joe Milton stiff arms his way into the end zone. Photographed by Jackson McCarter/Rocky Top Insider

Tennessee football concluded its regular season with a 48-24 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon. The Vols scored quickly, took control in the second quarter and cruised to a lopsided victory.

Here’s five critical moments from the Vols’ win over Vanderbilt.

A Quick Strike

Tennessee scored just one touchdown in each of its last two games. But the Vols’ offense got off to a fast start against the overmatched Vanderbilt defense.

The Vols opened the game with a three-play, 76 yard touchdown drive which gave them an early lead. Scoring fast was critical due to the lack of success in recent weeks but how Tennessee moved the ball was just as important.

Vanderbilt packed the box on Tennessee’s first drive and dared the Vols’ to throw the ball against them. Tennessee had two successful screen plays and then Milton hit Keyton over the top for a 56-yard touchdown.

Vanderbilt’s Answer

It was a great start for Tennessee’s offense but an equally poor start from its defense. Vanderbilt answered Tennessee’s opening drive touchdown with an opening drive touchdown of its own.

The Commodores went 73 yards in just four plays, capping it off with a Junior Sherrill 19-yard touchdown which tied the game early in the first quarter.

Vanderbilt’s quick answer kept the Commodores in the game for the time being and it kept Tennessee from opening up a massive early lead. As the Vols’ offense stalled out in its next two drives, Vanderbilt had an opportunity to take a lead and put some pressure on Tennessee but was unsuccessful.

More From RTI: PFF Grades From Tennessee Football’s Win Over Vanderbilt

The Second Quarter Skirmish

We already wrote about the second quarter brouhaha between Tennessee and Vanderbilt here and about what Josh Heupel and Clark Lea said about it here so I won’t go in too much detail here.

But Tennessee led 21-10 when things escalated in the second quarter at Neyland Stadium and there’s no doubt that the sequence changed the intensity and the vibe of the game. It gave the Vols an extra bolt of motivation and juice in the middle of what could have otherwise been a quiet rivalry game.

Two-Minute Drill Touchdown

Tennessee immediately answered when Vanderbilt punted the ball back to the Vols the play after the melee. The Vols took over at their own 46-yard line with 2:34 in the first half.

Joe Milton III and the Vols turned in perhaps their best drive of the game, going 54 yards on eight plays and scoring a touchdown with five seconds remaining in the first half. The Vols’ moved the ball down the field with a balanced attack, got a big pass interference in the end zone and Milton ran it in from there.

The touchdown extended Tennessee’s lead to 28-10 at halftime and put the game to bed.

The Moment Critical To The Betters

Tennessee ended the game in all practicality with the touchdown drive to end the first half but the 27-point spread was important to a number of fans inside Neyland Stadium.

The Vols led by what seemed like a comfortable 35-points (eight points against the spread) early in the fourth quarter with Vanderbilt’s offense struggling to move the ball. But Dee Williams muffed a punt inside the 10-yard line which gave the Commodores a short field.

The ensuing Vanderbilt touchdown got the Commodores in striking distance of covering the spread and then Vanderbilt put one strong drive together and scored another touchdown to cover the point spread.

It didn’t matter for the result of the game but Williams’ muffed punt proved important to the betters.

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