Quick Summary: Tennessee went to Nashville with hopes of starting a two-game winning streak that would lead it to bowl eligibility.
Instead, the Vols played perhaps their worst game of the year and were embarrassed by a more motivated and better-coached Vanderbilt team in a 41-18 loss, the most lopsided win for Vanderbilt against Tennessee since 1954.
Defensively, the Vols looked ready to play early. They stopped Vanderbilt on two goal-line stands to help Tennessee to an early 7-6 lead. Quarterback Tyler Bray got off to a rough start, completing just six of his first 17 attempts with one touchdown and one interception.
Coach Derek Dooley temporarily replaced him with backup Justin Worley, who threw an interception on his first series. Vanderbilt capitalized with more point off of that turnover and held a 13-10 lead at the half.
That’s when it got ugly for Tennessee. Vanderbilt scored the next 28 points. Vandy wide receiver Jordan Matthews scored on a 71-yard touchdown reception and a 47-yard reverse to aid the Commodores’ second half run.
The Vols wouldn’t score again until Cordarrelle Patterson took a punt return back 81 yards with 6:15 remaining, but they were well out contention by that point.
It was over when: You could argue the Vols never really had a chance with the effort they showed. Vanderbilt out-played and out-schemed them in every aspect of the game. If you’re looking for a particular play, perhaps the three-yard Wildcat-formation touchdown throw from running back Wesley Tate to Kris Kentera. That put Vandy up 27-10 early in the third quarter and killed any hope the Vols had.
Tennessee player of the game: Patterson made a few nice plays, but he also had some questionable moves such as a taunting penalty before he crossed the goal line in the first half (the play was negated by an illegal formation). Overall, running back Marlin Lane had the best night for the Vols. He had 16 carries for 108 yards, added five catches for 37 yards and helped out with kick returns with running back Devrin Young sitting out of this game (personal reasons).
Vanderbilt player of the game: Wide receiver Jordan Matthews embarrassed the Tennessee secondary on multiple occasions. He ended the night with seven receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown to go along with his 47-yard touchdown run on a reverse.
Unsung hero: Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy, playing at less than 100 percent (leg), still had a strong night against the Vols running, receiving and in pass protection. He took the first play of the game 72 yards on a screen pass to set up a field goal. He added 85 yards rushing on 17 carries and a touchdown on the ground.
Three stats of note:
1. Tennessee was 2 of 15 (13.3 percent) on third-down conversion attempts: Third-down conversions have been a strength for the Vols this season (40-percent conversion rate), but they weren’t on Saturday. Bray was out of sync with his receivers all night.
2. Tennessee averaged 3.8 yards per reception: It came into the game averaging 13.6 yards in that category. Credit Vanderbilt for forcing the Vols into third-and-long situations and then making them throw it underneath and short of the first-down marker.
3. Vanderbilt got its second win against the Vols and first in Nashville in the last 30 years: A lot of streaks and records fell on Saturday – none of them good for the Vols. Vandy stopped a six-game winning streak for UT, stopped the Vols’ 15-game winning streak in Nashville and won for the third time in 37 years against Tennessee.
Where does Tennessee go from here?: The 2012 Vols are done. Yes, they have one more game against Kentucky on the schedule, but there’s nothing left to play for at this point but a little bit of pride against the Wildcats. There will be no bowl and it seems virtually impossible that Dooley will be back next season. Tennessee is a superior team to Kentucky in terms of overall talent, but after the effort against Vanderbilt, it’s hard to guarantee a win in any game at this point.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.