HOOVER, Ala. — Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason finished the 2016 regular season staking claim to the state of Tennessee, and the Commodores made it clear Tuesday they have earned their place as worthy rivals.
“Three out of the last five years,” Vanderbilt linebacker Oren Burks said at SEC Media Day on Tuesday at the Wynfrey Hotel, referencing the Commodores’ recent success against the Vols, “I’d say it’s a rivalry.”
After Vanderbilt upsets Tennessee, Commodores coach Derek Mason yells, “THIS IS OUR STATE.” pic.twitter.com/q1hMvidvxS
— Jesse Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) November 27, 2016
Indeed, Vanderbilt’s success against Tennessee the past five meetings is of historic proportion and worthy of conversation.
The Vols lead the all-time series 75-31-5, but last year’s loss to the Commodores in Nashville cost Coach Butch Jones and his team a trip to the Sugar Bowl — a New Year’s Six-level event that would have represented a huge step forward for his program.
Instead, Vanderbilt rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half to score a 45-34 victory over a depleted Tennessee football team.
It marked the first time the Commodores beat the Vols in football three times in a five-year span since the 1920s, when Vanderbilt won six straight between 1920-1926, leading to Tennessee’s hiring of Robert Neyland.
In the last five meetings:
- 2016: Vanderbilt 45, Tennessee 34
- 2015: Tennessee 53, Vanderbilt 28
- 2014: Tennessee 24, Vanderbilt 17
- 2013: Vanderbilt 14, Tennessee 10
- 2012: Vanderbilt 41, Tennessee 18
“It’s definitely one of the top games of my career,” Burks said Tuesday, unable to contain his smile.”We had a spurt of growth near the end of the season, so I’d say that was a huge game for us momentum-wise and confidence-wise and capped off the season.”
That’s how returning Commodores running back Ralph Webb remembers it, too.
“It was a great win to cap off the end of the regular season,” said Webb, who closed the game’s scoring with a 28-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. “Tennessee was hot for a while, and maybe they thought it was going be an easy game.”
Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who recently returned from the Manning Passing Academy, said he’s adopted the rivalry.
“I can’t really say I grew up watching the rivalry, I sort of adopted it,” Shurmur said. “There’s a lot of emotion that goes into that game, but at the same time, we have to worry about ourselves and what we have to do to win the game. We have to take what they gives us, and we had to channel our emotions in that game.”
Shurmur was 21-of-34 passing for 416 yards, with 2 touchdowns and an interception against Tennessee.
“There was more emotion on our side,” Shurmur said. “It was a fun night.”
Mason, one of the most motivational speakers the past two years at SEC Media Days, made it clear Vanderbilt has no plans of slowing down.
“We’ve got something here on West End that we know is special. The movement has already started,” Mason said. “If you want to see great football and see great teams doing great things, come check us out.
“There is no ceiling.”