Rapid Reaction: Volunteer State belongs to Vanderbilt as Commodores embarrass Tennessee for third consecutive season
Tennessee and Vanderbilt met in Nashville on Saturday for the right to go to the postseason but instead of battling down to the wire for the right to make a bowl game, the Commodores were the only team that bothered to show up.
It’s official, Vanderbilt owns Tennessee.
Vanderbilt dominated the Volunteers on Saturday, winning 38-13 to advance to 6-6 on the season. Tennessee drops to 5-7 in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year on the job. The Commodores jumped out to a 17-point led at the half and this game was never really in doubt.
It doesn’t matter which coach is leading the way on Rocky Top, the Commodores keep finding ways to beat the Volunteers on the field. While many Tennessee fans want to throw all the blame at Butch Jones, even Phillip Fulmer-led Tennessee had loosened its grip on the dominance it held in this annual series.
The Commodores have now beaten Tennessee for three consecutive seasons, a fate not accomplished since 1926. Derek Mason has now beaten three different UT coaches during that span (Brady Hoke was the interim for the Vols in 2017).
Jeremy Pruitt was brought in to put an end to this streak but his coaching staff didn’t do much of anything to prevent the team’s latest defeat to the Commodores. The offense was bafflingly poor at times against a Vanderbilt team that features one of the SEC’s worst run defenses. The defense had no answers for Kyle Shurmur in the first half. If not for one 75-yard burst by running back Ty Chandler, Tennessee would have been shut out in this game.
That had nothing to do with coaching, it was pure talent from Chandler.
How did Tennessee’s staff respond to that score, which could have led to some momentum with the Vols down only 10 after the score? They iced Chandler out for the next 10 minutes or so of game time. Despite being Tennessee’s most explosive player, Chandler did not receive a single reception in the game.
For what it’s worth, Chandler became the first Tennessee player since 2006 to record two runs of 75 yards or more in a single season following his lone score of the game. Seems like a player you’d want to touch the ball.
Chandler finished the game with only seven touches. He averaged 12.6 yards per carry against Vanderbilt.
On the other sideline, credit Shurmur for being a catalyst in this game for Vandy, as the senior QB started the game completing 17 of his first 19 passes for 213 yards and a score. He finished the game completing 31 of 35 for 367 yards and three touchdowns. He will end his career with a 3-1 record against the Vols, a record no Vanderbilt QB may ever match again.
Mason has now led Vanderbilt to its second bowl appearance in his five seasons in Nashville. It’s a big win for the Commodore coach, as the school will soon have a new athletic director and Mason may have needed to show he’s got the program headed in the right direction to his new boss in Nashville.
Pruitt, on the other hand, likely lost some faith from some corners of the Tennessee fan base for failing to win either of the final two games on the schedule. A win in either game would have given the team its first bowl appearance in two seasons and instead of competing down the stretch, the Vols were embarrassed by both Missouri and Vandy.
By no means should Pruitt be on any kind of a warm seat, no reasonable Tennessee fan would be so bold as to make that claim, but the first-year coach will have some work to do to win over some fans that may have cooled on him following wins over Auburn and Kentucky. That’s certainly something that can be accomplished as soon as next season, Tennessee doesn’t start a single senior on offense and has a favorable 2019 schedule, but until he delivers on that promise, he will have his share of doubters.
Winning big again on Rocky Top starts with recruiting, something Pruitt’s staff has been excelling at after being on the job for nearly 12 months, but the returns on the field have to follow. Under Pruitt, Tennessee took plenty of first-year lumps that it can’t afford to let carry over to year-two.
While it was only two weeks ago Pruitt was being mentioned as an SEC Coach of the Year candidate by some, he’s now left searching for answers, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, heading into the 2019 season and missing out on postseason play.
Pruitt said his team was playing for pride this week leading up to this game. They didn’t show any on the field against the Commodores, that’s for sure.