Tennessee closed out the 2015 regular season with a convincing 53-28 win over Vanderbilt and, more importantly, a five-game winning streak.
Credit the Vols for not overlooking the Commodores. That’s certainly happened before in this often anticlimactic series. Tennessee took firm control of the game early in the second quarter and never relinquished it.
Here are the grades the Vols deserved based on their performance:
Excluding drives ended by halftime or end of regulation, Tennessee scored on 9-of-12 possessions. The Vols’ multi-faceted ground attack featured a trio of players with 90 yards or more rushing. As a team, Tennessee averaged 6.4 yards per carry on Saturday against a Vandy defense that had been stout against the run coming into the game. The only knock against the Vols was they didn’t convert on a long third-quarter drive that ended just one yard shy of the Vandy end zone. However, that’s nitpicking. This was a complete offensive performance by Tennessee.
It was a hot and cold day for Tennessee’s defense. The Vols didn’t exactly shutdown the Commodores, who had 411 total offensive yards. However, Tennessee came up with timely plays to stop Vandy from gaining any significant momentum shortly after the first quarter ended. Defensive end Derek Barnett looked like a man on a mission with two sacks. One resulted in a safety. Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and defensive lineman LaTroy Lewis each added a sack. Safety Todd Kelly Jr.’s diving interception ended a Vandy drive deep in Tennessee territory. Senior safety Brian Randolph led the Vols with seven tackles in his final game in Neyland Stadium.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Cameron Sutton’s 85-yard punt return for a touchdown was the special teams highlight. Vanderbilt is fortunate that was the only one. Sutton nearly broke another punt return for a touchdown before he was tackled by Vandy punter Tommy Openshaw. It seemed as if Sutton could bust into the open field every time he returned a punt. Kicker Aaron Medley converted on all three of his field goals, including a 47 yarder, which was the longest of his career. As most teams have been late in the season, Vandy was wise to kick the ball away from returner Evan Berry on kickoffs.
Tennessee’s coaches did exactly what some thought they couldn’t accomplish against Vanderbilt: dominate on the ground. Sure, the Vols could have taken more shots downfield, but they didn’t really need to. Tennessee’s offensive coaches could have been more creative on that third quarter drive that stalled just short of the Vandy goalline. However, Tennessee’s coaches must have been confident they could punch it in with the way they had been running the football. The Vols didn’t convert on that drive but the decision to go for it on fourth down showed Tennessee’s coaches confidence in their players. That could come in handy moving forward.
Tennessee’s coaches had the game plan to beat the Commodores in hand. Tennessee’s players overcame the emotions of Senior Day to end any chance Vanderbilt had to pull the upset. It was a complete effort in all three phases. The Vols finished the season with five consecutive victories. After an inauspicious beginning to the season, Tennessee’s winning streak will change the way 2015 will be remembered.