Tennessee lost its final game of the regular season to in-state rival Vanderbilt, 45-34.
The loss gives the Vols an 8-4 record heading into bowl season, the same record the team posted in 2015.
"That locker room is a very disappointed locker room," coach Butch Jones said. "And you would expect that."
Jones made a brief media appearance almost immediately after the game when most reporters were not in the media room. He took questions for less than four minutes before departing.
Butch went to media room pretty much immediately after game. Most reporters weren't there yet. Took questions for less than 4 minutes— WBIR Sports (@WBIRSports) November 27, 2016
"Couldn't get off the field on third down," Jones said in his brief postgame presser. "Defensively, we didn't do a very good job of playing the ball in the air. And they made more plays at the end of the day, so I give them a lot of credit."
Vanderbilt’s play-action attacks would create problems early. However, on Vanderbilt’s opening drive, Vols’ defensive tackle Kendall Vickers made a third-and-one stop against Vanderbilt. When the Commodores decided to go for it on fourth 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 by 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.
Aaron Medley chipped a field goal late in the third quarter to extend the Vols’ lead to 34-24.
But Vanderbilt would see momentum swing its way late in the third quarter. A Khari Blasingame 12-yard run for touchdown made it a slim 34-31 Vols lead. Then an early fourth quarter fumble by Josh Dobbs was recovered by the Commodores, who drove for 49 yards on seven plays for their first lead of the game. Vanderbilt led 38-34 early in the fourth quarter.
"There's a number of times where we were right there in position," Jones said of the pass defense. "We just didn't play the ball in the air, whether it was a wrong hand, slip and falling down or sometimes applying pressure to the quarterbacks. I think it was a combination of all those things."
Aaron Medley missed a field goal halfway through the fourth quarter that would’ve brought the Vols within one point. Jones said after the game he didn't see anything new from the Vanderbilt defense, just that it wore Tennessee down.
"They just out-executed us," Jones said. "I thought they were able to apply pressure. Josh [Dobbs] had to escape the pocket, but pretty much the same stuff we'd seen in the first half."
Vanderbilt padded its fourth quarter lead on a 28-yard run lead by Ralph Webb, making it 45-35 Commodores.
The Vols attempted a late game comeback, but on a fourth-and-four rushing attempt, Alvin Kamara fell well short of the first down, turning the ball over on downs. Reporters asked after the game whether Jones had considered kicking a field goal instead of pushing for a touchdown late.
"I did, but I just felt we needed at that point in time to be able to score, go for two, and try an onside kick," Jones said.
Tennessee was competing for a potential Sugar Bowl berth and a 10-win season, but both those possibilities vanished after its second loss to an unranked opponent in 2016.
"That's unacceptable at Tennessee," Jones said of giving up 45 points to Vanderbilt. "That's not going to be tolerated."