The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt routed by Tennessee in 42-17 home loss, Commodores fall to 0-9

The shorthanded Vanderbilt Commodores were reminded why Tennessee is aptly nicknamed the Volunteer State on Saturday, as they fell to in-state rival Tennessee 42-17.
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Jabari Small (20) runs over Jaylen Mahoney in Vanderbilt’s 42-17 loss to Tennessee. (Tennessean/George Walker IV)

Seeking to lay claim over the state of Tennessee on Saturday afternoon, the shorthanded Vanderbilt Commodores were instead reminded why it’s aptly nicknamed the Volunteer State.

“Tennessee played a good football game,” Todd Fitch said after his first game as interim head coach. “I thought they did a good job on both sides of the line of scrimmage.”

In the penultimate game of 2020, Vanderbilt’s final home contest of the year, the Commodores celebrated their eldest student-athletes on senior day; meanwhile, the in-state rival Tennessee Volunteers celebrated a 42-17 win, just their third of the season, and relished in the thought that Vanderbilt is within 60 minutes of the program’s first ever winless season.

“I just really feel for our seniors,” Fitch said. “Last home game, and I thought the guys were competing as hard as they could out there.”

For much of the first quarter, however, the game looked far from the 25-point deficit Vanderbilt found itself in by sundown. Despite playing with just 49 active scholarship players due to opt-outs, injuries and COVID-19 related complications, Vanderbilt went toe-to-toe with Tennessee early. 

The two programs looked like the even-keeled, last and second-to-last place SEC East teams they were made out to be. Vanderbilt, after receiving the opening kickoff, was forced to punt after a three-and-out. Then, Tennessee responded with a punt after a three-and-out of its own. And despite favorable field position, the Commodores made it back-to-back-to-back three-and-outs on their second possession, though this one saw them turn three plays into one yard—an improvement from the negative one they notched on their first possession.

Vanderbilt’s second punt in as many possessions traveled only 37 yards off the foot of Harrison Smith, gifting the Volunteers excellent field position. After setting up shop on the Commodore 42-yard line, Tennessee needed nine plays to break the game’s seal with freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey’s six-yard touchdown pass—a high-arcing lob over the middle—to tight end Princeton Fant.

But the Commodores responded quickly. Quarterback Ken Seals completed four of his six passes on the next drive, highlighted by a 34-yard completion to Chris Pierce and capped off with an 18-yard touchdown to Cam Johnson.

Trailing 7-6, Vanderbilt called on Sarah Fuller, previously the first woman to log a Power Five snap, to try and become the first woman to score in a Power Five game.

“It’s not any moral victory or anything like that, but it was good to see her go out and execute and get a chance to do some things,” Fitch said, after Fuller did not get the same chance in Vanderbilt’s last game, a 41-0 loss to Missouri.

Fuller drilled her extra point attempt, placing it perfectly through the uprights and once again putting her name in the history books.

https://twitter.com/SimonGibbs26/status/1337873297422180352?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1337873297422180352%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fvanderbilthustler.com%2F37111%2Ffeatured%2Fsarah-fuller-becomes-the-first-woman-to-score-in-a-power-five-football-game%2F

 

“I was ready to go out and roll,” Fuller said. “The guys were super pumped up and encouraging, so I was super excited to go out and do what I was training for the past few weeks.”

Vanderbilt looked in position to compete for its first win of the season following Fuller’s extra point. The Commodores’ rail-thin defense proceeded to stop Tennessee’s offense yet again, keeping the game knotted at seven apiece; then, the offense showed a sign of life—though this time, Seals was unable to push it past the Tennessee 21-yard line, kicker Pierson Cooke shook off some early-season struggles and nailed a 39-yard field goal.

The Commodores led 10-7 early in the second quarter. But the momentum was short-lived, perhaps due to depth issues.

“We were short-handed, there’s no doubt about that,” Fitch said. “It affected us on both lines of scrimmage. On [both the defensive and offensive lines], I think we were playing three true freshmen at one point. Defensively, just depth-wise, we were really short.”

The Seals-led offense converted on just one of seven proceeding third downs in the second quarter, and Tennessee capitalized on Vanderbilt’s missed opportunities.

“We had the right mindset and right attitude coming into the game. We stuck together, but physically, we just couldn’t—” Seals said, taking a long pause before he continued, “pull it together.”

While Vanderbilt couldn’t pull it together, Tennessee in the second quarter began to pull away—first, the Volunteers scored on a highlight-reel, one-handed pick-six courtesy of Bryce Thompson. Then, after Vanderbilt strung together a negative 16-yard possession en route to a punt, Tennessee needed just three plays to go the distance and punch in another touchdown—one of redshirt sophomore J.T. Shrout Shrout’s two second-quarter touchdown passes.

Within a few minutes of game time, Vanderbilt’s three-point lead had disappeared. They entered the locker room at halftime trailing 28-10.

“We wanted to play this game,” Fitch reaffirmed after his team fell handidly to their underperforming, 3-6 in-state rivals.

Fittingly, Vanderbilt stuck it out until the end, despite the fact that their offense was nearly stagnant in the second half, notching just 106 yards of total offense and converting zero of six third-down attempts. All the while, Tennessee’s offense hardly did much to exploit Vanderbilt’s weakened defense. The Volunteers tacked on another touchdown after traveling 75 yards on a five-play, third-quarter drive, then their final touchdown on a one-play, 74-yard drive.

“We weren’t going to duck out [of this game] or anything,” Fitch said. “The players wanted to play this game, and I’m proud of them because I thought the effort level, for most of the game, was pretty good.”

The Commodores managed to score one touchdown in the second half, as Ken Seals found Ben Bresnahan for an impressive touchdown catch. And once again, Fuller nailed her extra point attempt, bringing Vanderbilt to a meager 17 points.

Only the ninth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (7-2) stand between Vanderbilt (0-9) and its first winless season—that is, if their Dec. 19 contest is even played.

“As I mentioned going into this game, the numbers are important,” Fitch said, when asked if the Commodores would play next week if they fell below the 53-player threshold again. “It really matters where your numbers are at…We’re obviously short. We’re going to have to see where things are at with injuries and those sorts of things.”

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About the Contributor
Simon Gibbs, Former Sports Editor
Simon Gibbs (‘21) is the former Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since the first semester of his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Senior Writer and Deputy Sports Editor. Simon is also the host of VU Sports Wired on Vanderbilt Video Productions and The Hustler Sports 30 on VandyRadio. Simon has attended several events as credentialed media, including the 2019 NFL Draft, 2019 College Baseball World Series and the 2019 SEC Tournament. Outside of his Commodore coverage, Simon has had bylines published on NHL.com and NashvillePredators.com. When he's not writing, you can find Simon watching his hometown New York Mets, waiting for that next ring. For tips, comments or concerns, please reach out to: [email protected]    
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