Defense lets down Vandy in 53-28 loss to Tennessee - Sports Illustrated

Defense lets down Vandy in 53-28 loss to Tennessee

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The defense that attempted to carry Vanderbilt all season finally crumbled in the Commodores' season finale.

Joshua Dobbs threw two touchdown passes to Von Pearson and ran for a third score Saturday as Tennessee trounced Vanderbilt 53-28 to end the regular season with its first five-game winning streak since 2007. The Volunteers put up their highest point total against a Southeastern Conference opponent since a 59-21 victory over Mississippi State in 2003.

Ralph Webb rushed for 149 yards and Kyle Shurmur threw three touchdown passes for Vanderbilt (4-8, 2-6 SEC). Jalen Hurd rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown, and Cameron Sutton scored on an 85-yard punt return for Tennessee (8-4, 5-3).

''We were our own worst enemy tonight,'' Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. ''I thought we hadn't done anything any different just in terms of game plan and execution. We looked at these guys. We knew who they were, and they weren't any different than what we thought. We just needed to tackle better, we needed to get off the field on third down and just do a better job overall of just playing the game.''

Tennessee beat Vanderbilt for a second straight year after losing to its in-state rival in 2012 and 2013. Tennessee has won 31 of its last 34 meetings with Vanderbilt overall.

Vanderbilt entered the week averaging 14 points per game, making the Commodores the lowest-scoring Football Bowl Subdivision program. Vanderbilt was kept afloat by a defense that ranked among the top 25 FBS teams in most major statistical categories.

That defense couldn't slow down Tennessee, which scored on each of its first four possessions and put the game away with a dominant rushing attack in the second half. Vanderbilt stayed close for most of the first half before Tennessee reeled off 33 straight points, turning a 20-14 game into a 53-14 runaway.

''We came away from this game surprised,'' Vanderbilt linebacker Dareon Herring said. ''Really that's not our defense out there that played tonight.''

Tennessee trounced Vanderbilt with a well-rounded attack. Tennessee rushed for 331 yards, the defense produced a safety when Derek Barnett sacked Shurmur in the end zone and Aaron Medley kicked three field goals. Alvin Kamara rushed for 99 yards, and Dobbs ran for 93 yards while throwing for 140 yards.

''I believe we're one of the best teams in the country, and our players believe that,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ''There's a lot of positive energy surrounding our program.''

The Volunteers scored on each of their four possessions but couldn't pull away early because Vanderbilt's dormant offense finally came to life in the last week of the regular season. Vanderbilt reached the end zone on back-to-back possessions, with Darrius Sims scoring from 7 yards out and Shurmur throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Trent Sherfield.

Vanderbilt was only trailing 20-14 late in the second quarter before Sutton's punt return helped Tennessee seize control of the game.

Sutton stumbled initially, but he regained his footing and headed toward the right sideline before sprinting into the end zone. Vanderbilt got down to Tennessee's 11 on its next series, but Todd Kelly Jr. picked off a Shurmur pass to end the scoring threat.

Tennessee dominated from that point forward until Shurmur threw two touchdown passes in the last 4 1/2 minutes to make the final score a little more respectable.

''I believe Vanderbilt's found a quarterback in Kyle Shurmur,'' Mason said. ''Some young guys have had a chance to get experience and grow. And now we understand where we're deficient. We have to address that through recruiting, and that means making sure you get the talent in your program that you need to infuse and compete in this conference.''


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