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 falls to Tennessee 56-0, finishes season 5-7

The Volunteers controlled the game from start to finish, putting an end to Vanderbilt’s two-game SEC winning streak.
Arianna Santiago
The Vanderbilt defense struggled all evening against a stout Vol receiver corps, as photographed at FirstBank Stadium on Nov. 26, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Arianna Santiago)

In the pouring rain at a sold-out FirstBank Stadium, No. 10 Tennessee (10-2) defeated Vanderbilt (5-7), 56-0, for the fourth straight year on Saturday, Nov. 26. The Volunteers had four second-half 50+ yard rushing touchdowns, and the Commodores struggled to move the chains.

“We’re disappointed right now. Tonight was painful. I just hurt for our team, for our fans, and for our program,” Clark Lea said after the game. “We wanted the chance to extend our season and fell short, but we’re gonna have a chance to step back and really take a big picture view. I can tell you that there’s a belief and feeling internally that we are closing those gaps and we need to capture that sense of improvement and use that as fuel to just to continue to strive forward.”

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Volunteer offense got right to work with a four-play, 75 yard touchdown drive taking up only 55 seconds of game clock. Quarterback Joe Milton III launched a 65 yard downfield pass to Jalin Hyatt that set up a Jabari Small 3-yard run on the next play, putting Tennessee up 7-0.

Vanderbilt responded largely on the ground, picking up 35 yards on six carries split between running backs Ray Davis and Patrick Smith. However, a botched snap to quarterback Mike Wright set the Commodores back 12 yards that led to a punt pinning the Vols at their own 10 yard line.

As the downpour continued, Tennessee kept the passing game going but their second drive stalled after only one first down because of overthrown throws from Milton III.

However, the Commodores went three-and-out and gave the ball right back to the Volunteers.  

Tennessee went hurry-up on the following drive, facing a few moments of resistance from the Vanderbilt defense. The Volunteers, though, converted two crucial fourth downs, including a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to go up 14-0 just before the end of the first quarter.

Vanderbilt started their third drive at their own 36-yard line after wide receiver Jayden McGowan’s kickoff return. A couple of dump-off throws and a roll-out run from Wright got the Commodores into Volunteer territory, and a defensive false start on Tennessee helped propel them on a crucial third-and-five. However, the drive stalled and Vanderbilt kicker Joseph Bulovas hooked left a 39-yard field goal attempt, leaving the Commodores scoreless. 

The teams quickly traded punts, however Tennessee’s Dee Williams returned Vanderbilt’s attempt 73 yards to the house to put the Vols up three scores with 8:09 left in the second quarter, 21-0. 

A three-and-out by the Commodores gave Tennessee another opportunity to add to their lead, but Vanderbilt stopped the Volunteers on a fourth-and-one attempt from the Vanderbilt 27-yard line. Linebacker CJ Taylor snuck into the backfield, tackling Small to cause the turnover on downs.

The stop gave some life to the Commodores, who gained two first downs on designed runs for Wright. The seven-play drive stalled on the Tennessee 39, though, forcing the Commodores to punt just before half. Tennessee ran the clock out, up 21-0 at the break.

McGowan’s 41-yard kickoff return after the half gave Lea’s offense another prime offensive opportunity, but the Commodores turned the ball over on downs.

Small broke a 52-yard run up the middle two plays later for another Tennessee touchdown. He finished the day with 79 yards for 2 TDs on 11 carries. 

On the next drive in a play that was emblematic of the loss, Vanderbilt punter Matt Hayball ran a fake punt on 4th-and-6, picked up 21 yards, but fumbled the ball at midfield, giving the ball back to the Volunteers.

Two plays later, Tennessee running back Jaylen Wright rushed 52 yards right through the Vanderbilt defense, barely touched on his way to the endzone.

After falling behind 35-0, Lea made a quarterback adjustment, putting freshman AJ Swann back under center. Swann missed two games due to an injury during the South Carolina loss.

The offense did not improve, however, and Vanderbilt had to punt after allowing a sack after picking up just one first down.

The Vols continued their hurry-up offense, and Milton III threw a 7-yard dart to wide receiver Walker Merrill for his only passing TD of the night. Tennessee only possessed the ball for just over 16 minutes compared to Vanderbilt’s 44 minutes in control in the game.

Vanderbilt turned to the air despite the continued pouring rain, and Swann completed four-of-seven passing attempts to put the Commodores in Volunteer territory. However, McGowan was stopped just short of the line to gain at the Tennessee 30, forcing a Vanderbilt fourth down passing attempt that was batted down to the ground.

Vanderbilt quickly got the ball back after forcing a Tennessee three-and-out as the third quarter expired. Swann led the team up the field once again, completing passes to Sheppard and McGowan, entering the red zone. However, the Tennessee defense made yet another stop on fourth down, and the Commodores came up empty on the 7-play, 53-yard drive.

Tennessee wasted no time adding to the scoreboard. Wright rushed left through the Vanderbilt secondary untouched and outran the defenders 83 yards to the endzone to extend the Volunteer lead to 49-0. Wright ended with 160 yards and 2 TDs on only 5 attempts.

Vanderbilt punted the ball back to Tennessee quickly and again allowed a rushing touchdown on the Volunteers’ first play of the drive. Running back Dylan Sampson ran 80 yards to put Tennessee up 56-0 with 7:41 left in the fourth quarter.

Neither team made much more offensive progress for the rest of the game, letting the clock run out, leaving the score at 56-0.

“We played uncharacteristically in that second half,” Lea said. “We played unstructured against the run and we played against a good opponent. Where we were a gap short or step slow, they made us pay by outrunning us to the end zone.”

Vanderbilt finishes the season 5-7, the Commodores’ best record since 2018.

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About the Contributors
Matthew Shipley, Former Senior Staff Writer
Matthew Shipley (‘25) is from Hendersonville, Tenn., and is majoring in economics, mathematics and political science and minoring in data science. He enjoys closely following the U.S. Supreme Court, playing basketball and being involved in his faith community. He can be reached at [email protected].
Arianna Santiago, Senior Staff Photographer
Arianna Santiago ('24) is from Bremerton, Wash., and studying electrical and computer engineering in the School of Engineering. When not shooting for The Hustler or for freelance work, Arianna can be found leading campus tours, organizing events for University Catholic, attempting to study and procrastinating her lab reports. You can reach her at [email protected].
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