STREAK SNAPPED: Four quick takes on Tennessee's easy win over Vanderbilt
On a sloppy and slippery Saturday night in Neyland Stadium, Tennessee ran past Vanderbilt 28-10, moving to 7-5 to finish the 2019 regular season.
The Vols snapped a three-game losing streak to the ‘Dores behind Eric Gray’s career day and a suffocating defensive effort.
Here are four quick takes on an easy victory for the Vols to close the regular season.
1. Hello, Mr. Gray
On Senior Night, it was a little used freshman who stole the show for Tennessee.
Memphis native Eric Gray had just 207 yards on the season entering Saturday night — with just 42 yards on 24 carries the last seven games combined — but the former 4-star recruit showcased his electric ability against Vandy, ripping off 246yards rushing. It was a true freshman record for Gray, breaking Jamal Lewis' effort against Georgia in 1997.
Gray had touchdowns of 4, 56 and 94 yards, the latter score being the longest run ever by a freshman in SEC history. Gray got the lion’s share of carries Saturday with junior Ty Chandler battling a shin injury.
The Vols finished with 298 yards rushing against the nation’s No. 109 rush defense — easily their best output of the season. While Gray finished runs with his breakaway speed, Tennessee’s OL — namely Brandon Kennedy, Jerome Carvin and Trey Smith — opened up huge holes for the tailbacks.
2. Tennessee’s defense continued its late season renaissance
The Vols had a grip on Vandy’s porous offense all night, allowing just 89 yards total in the first half. The ‘Dores were without standout tight end Jared Pinckey and star tailback Ke’Shawn Vaughn exited with an injury on the first series of the game, putting an already anemic attack behind the eight-ball early.
Still, the ‘Dores were held to just 6 of 18 on third down and didn't get into the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter.
Riley Neal had some garbage time stats in the final period, but Vandy’s quarterback connected on just 10 of his first 23 throws for 88 yards. The Vols sacked Neal three times, had five TFLs and added another six hurries. Vandy’s run game couldn’t gain any traction, either, averaging just 3.7 yards per rush. Tennessee’s defensive line was excellent overall, even without Aubrey Solomon. Kurott Garland had a big TFL in the first half and John Mincey blew up a run play off the edge.
Defensive backs Alontae Taylor (who had a forced fumble wiped off due to a penalty), Shawn Shamburger and Nigel Warrior all delivered strong performances, too.
During Tennessee's five-game winning streak to end the season, the Vols have not allowed more than 21 points in any single game.
3. Not Jarrett Guarantano’s best night
One week after throwing for over 400 yards in the win at Missouri, Tennessee’s quarterback fell back to earth hard on Saturday.
Guarantano finished with just 120 passing yards on 6 of 17 passing. He started the game 0-7 with an interception.
He wasn’t helped early by a drop and then a poor route by Josh Palmer, but the redshirt junior was just out of sync most the night. He was wide on several throws, particularly on deep outs to Jauan Jennings. He also short-hopped a couple passes under pressure. Marquez Callaway had just one catch, and Jennings only had six receiving yards before a 50-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter.
Guarantano’s best play of the day (outside of a sharp touchdown throw in the back of the end zone to Dominick Wood-Anderson) was a school-yard, Brett Favre play where he narrowly avoided a sack and pitched the ball to Wood-Anderson, who rumbled 14 yards on the play. It was Tennessee’s longest passing play for three quarters.
Guarantano was dealing with a heavy heart Saturday night, as his grandmother, who he was quite close to, passed away on Thanksgiving morning.
4. Quick hitters…
*** Saturday's game had a pair of weather delays — one to start the game and a 39-minute delay with less than eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
*** Dominick Wood-Anderson had three catches for 45 yards, his most output since the opener against Georgia State. Strangely, the senior tight end did not run through the ’T’ during the pregame ceremony.
*** Quavaris Crouch was used down in the goal line again as a short-yardage back, but in his only opportunity the freshman linebacker couldn’t handle the handoff from Guarantano, with the Vols fortunate to recover the fumble at Vandy’s three yard line.
*** After a shaky couple last few games, Tennessee punter Paxton Brooks rebounded with a solid effort on Saturday. The sophomore averaged over 44 yards on five punts, with one going over 50 yards and two landing inside the 20 yard line.
*** The Vols were really sloppy Saturday night, with nine total penalties for 66 yards. Austin Pope was flagged three times and the Vols had five false starts. They also had a couple penalties declined.
*** Tennessee’s captains on Saturday were Jennings, Callaway, Bituli and Darrell Taylor.