Tennessee took on in-state rival Vanderbilt for its final regular season game Saturday evening.
Vanderbilt’s play-action attacks would create problems early. However, on Vanderbilt’s opening drive, Vols’ defensive tackle Kendall Vickers made a 3rd-and-1 stop against Vanderbilt. When the Commodores decided to go for it on 4th down, Kenny Bynum initiated a group tackle, and the Vols recovered the ball on downs.
Tennessee made its opening drive on offense look easy, cruising for 56 yards in less than two minutes and on five plays. Running back Alvin Kamara finished the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run, giving the Vols a 7-0 lead.
Vanderbilt would counter on its next drive with a six-play, 75-yard drive. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur capped it with a pass to Bailey McElwain for an 18-yard touchdown.
Kamara struck again with a 21-yard touchdown catch to make it a 14-7 Vols lead late in the first quarter.
The Vols stumbled in the second quarter when running back John Kelly fumbled on just his second touch of the game. But Micah Abernathy helped get Tennessee right back on offense with an interception. On the ensuing drive, quarterback Josh Dobbs connected with wide receiver Josh Malone for a 27-yard pass, putting Tennessee at the half-yard line. Alvin Kamara then punched in a touchdown to put Tennessee up 21-7.
Vanderbilt would not go away, as the Commodores were able to cut the lead down to 21-14 on a 20-yard reception from Sam Dobbs. Vanderbilt tied the game 21-21 midway through the second quarter on a nine-yard run from Ralph Webb.
Tyler Byrd got the momentum back on Tennessee’s side with a 67-yard kickoff return. Vanderbilt’s defense did hold the Vols to a field goal; Aaron Medley’s 41-yarder put the Vols up 24-21 with 6:33 left in the half. Vanderbilt would chip a field goal of its own to make it 24-24 with 3:46 left in the half.
With less than a minute to go in the first half, Josh Dobbs connected with Josh Malone for a 27-yard touchdown pass to put Tennessee up to a 31-24 lead.
Derek Barnett tied Reggie White’s program record for career sacks (32) by taking down Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur to end the first half.