The Vols rolled into Nashville looking to break a six-game losing streak and show some signs of life.
The quarterback position has been a topic of conversation over the past few weeks, as Harrison Bailey got the nod on Saturday. It’s been a back and forth ride for the spot, as JT Shrout entered the game last week in the 2nd half, leading Tennessee to two touchdowns. Well, the same went down tonight, but earlier.
Bailey started the game 7-of-7 and led the Vols on a 42-yard drive that was capped off with a touchdown pass to Princeton Fant. This wouldn’t be the last time we saw Bailey in the first half; we’ll get back to that.
Vanderbilt was looking to put together some momentum of their own, so Ken Seals went to work. The Dores put together a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass. Sarah Fuller made history as she knocked in the extra point, and the game was tied.
Bailey came back in as QB, hitting two passes that gained 51 yards for the Vols. Brian Maurer appeared on the drive and rambled off a 22-yard gain to end the 1st quarter. That’s where things got tricky.
As Tennessee was looking to cap off the drive, Bailey was hit as he was throwing, and the referees called it a fumble, even after reviewing it. Honestly, I couldn’t tell if it was a fumble, but the play stood. Immediately following the change of possession, Seals threw a beautiful pass for 48 yards, setting up the Dores in Tennessee territory. After failing to convert on 3rd down, Vanderbilt settled for a 39-yard field goal. The Vols were down 10-7.
Tennessee decided to make a change at QB, though this was a part of the game plan. Shrout entered the game at the 12:08 mark of the 2nd quarter. Bailey was 7-of-7 at this point in the game.
Jeremy Pruitt discussed the change.
“We’re looking for the future. I think that’s the right thing to do right now.”
The big play came from the secondary, though, after Tennessee was forced to punt. Bryce Thompson had a spectacular one-handed interception that was returned for a touchdown. This was the spark the Vols needed, as they took a 14-10 lead.
As the Vols defense continued to put the pressure on the undersized Vanderbilt offensive line, they forced another punt. Shrout was at QB again for the Vols, and it was time to take advantage of the Dores secondary. The Vols were gifted with great field position, as they went on a three-play, 41-yard drive, capped off by the beautiful 23-yard pass to Velus Jones Jr.
This was the type of offense Tennessee fans were hoping to see. The Vols had only rushed the ball 15 times in the 1st half, leaving some to scratch their head because of the depleted Vanderbilt defensive line.
After some ugly offensive possessions, Tennessee had the opportunity to tack on more points before halftime. Shrout led Tennessee on a four-play, 66-yard drive that was capped off by a 26-yard bullet to Jalin Hyatt. The Vols led 28-10 at halftime.
As the 2nd half began, Bailey took the reigns as QB again. It didn’t take long for the Vols to find pay dirt. Bailey led Tennessee on a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Ty Chandler hit the hole for a 20-yard scramble to the end zone.
The Vols now led 35-10, and this game was almost in the books.
It wouldn’t be a Tennessee game without an interception, though. At the 12:04 mark in the 4th quarter, Vanderbilt picked off Shrout, a ball that shouldn’t have been thrown. The other problem was Vanderbilt putting pressure on the Tennessee QB’s with a bad defensive line that consisted of a few walk-ons. The Dores had three sacks at this point in the game, and that was their 2nd interception of the season.
The Vols needed a good offensive game plan tonight. Simply put, they needed to show life. They put the ball into the hands of players like Jones, Josh Palmer, and Hyatt. Trying to get more guys into this wide receiver rotation was much needed. Did they do that tonight? That’s is debatable. But once again, Jones Jr. was given the opportunity to make plays. He had six receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown up until 7:03 remaining in the 4th quarter.
But he wasn’t finished. Bailey hit Velus across the middle, and the receiver bounced off a defender and took it 74 yards to the house for a touchdown. A very nice way for the playmaker to end the night. The Vols could desperately use Jones back in the rotation next season, as he’s turned into a true weapon for Tennessee. The Vols’ lead was extended to 42-17.
Hyatt was another bright spot for the Tennessee receiving corps tonight, as he finished with five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. The freshman continued to show off his speed and ability to separate. So, whoever the quarterback is for the future will have a nice weapon to play with.
As the game was wrapping up, Tennessee fans even got a glimpse of Dee Beckwith at running back.
The Vols snapped a six-game losing streak tonight in Nashville, and the importance can’t be understated. But what did we really learn from tonight’s performance? That will be decided in how this team performs next Saturday.
Asked how this win would affect his job, Pruitt turned it back towards his players.
“The losses are about me, and the wins are about the players. The players did a nice job tonight. I didn’t play any plays tonight.”
Tonight showed this team doesn’t stop fighting, now let’s see how they respond to their first win since October.
All Images Courtesy of Tennessee Athletic Communications