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 trounced by No. 21 Tennessee, 48-24, limps to 2-10 finish

The Commodores were dominated in all three phases en route to their tenth straight loss.
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Barrie Barto
Vanderbilt fell to Tennessee for the fifth straight time on Saturday. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)

In their final game of the season, the Vanderbilt Commodores fell to in-state rival Tennessee, 48-24.  Following a blowout loss at the hands of South Carolina, the Commodores lost their tenth straight game in a chippy matchup with the Volunteers. After winning two conference games in 2022, Vanderbilt was unable to get its first and only SEC win of the season on Saturday. 

“This year has been painful and frustrating,” head coach Clark Lea said. “We never got synced up. As the competition increased, the things we got away with at the beginning just continued to show up.”

In a similar story to much of Vanderbilt’s season, the Commodores were unable to handle QB Joe Milton III and the Volunteers’ passing offense on Saturday evening. Milton III (383 yards, career-high 4 passing TD) shredded Vanderbilt’s secondary at every depth of the field, and finished the first half with nearly as many total touchdowns (4) as incompletions (6). Chunk plays killed the Commodores, with Tennessee’s offense putting together 7 plays of 25+ yards on the night. Despite winning the time of possession battle handily, Vanderbilt was outgained by Tennessee by over 300 yards.

It was AJ Swann who received the start for Vanderbilt, with the sophomore returning to action for the first time since Vanderbilt’s Week 4 tilt with Kentucky. Swann (167 yards, 1 TD) was mistake-free but was ultimately unable to find a rhythm in a struggling passing offense before exiting with an injury in the third quarter. 

The Tennessee offense struck in the game’s first minute and never looked back. After Vanderbilt deferred the kickoff to the second half, Milton III led a lightning-fast drive that ended with a touchdown. Following two chunk plays on screen passes to get the Volunteers near midfield, Milton III ripped a deep ball across the middle to Ramel Keyton for a 56-yard touchdown. In just 55 seconds, the Commodores found themselves in a deficit.

Vanderbilt was quick to respond to the Volunteers, with a four-play, 73-yard touchdown drive of their own in Swann’s return to the field. The Commodores were helped into the redzone by a couple strong runs by Sedrick Alexander before a Volunteers’ facemask penalty gave Vanderbilt the ball at the 19-yard line. A well-executed fake by Swann and a short flip pass to Junior Sherrill allowed the freshman to stroll into the endzone and tie the game.

Despite the Commodores’ quick response, the Volunteers’ offense continued to march down the field in the first half. With Vanderbilt’s offense forced into short punts on multiple possessions, Milton III took advantage of the short fields, converting with touchdown passes of 10 and 34 yards to push Tennessee’s lead to two scores. The two teams were both stopped in the redzone on their respective drives to follow, trading field goals to find the score at 24-10. 

Following a Vanderbilt punt with just over two minutes left in the half, Vanderbilt was again victimized by chunk plays on the ensuing drive. After multiple 10+ yard passing plays from Milton III, the quarterback strolled in the endzone on a 2-yard rushing touchdown to extend Tennessee’s lead to 31-10 with five seconds remaining. 

The Volunteers picked up where they left off following the halftime break, cutting the Commodores’ opening drive short after just one first down. Just five plays later, Milton III again found Keyton, this time for a 46-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Following a quick three-and-out, the Volunteers marched down the field, again ending with a 2-yard Milton III rushing touchdown to extend their lead to 45-10. 

With Swann injured, Ken Seals stepped in at quarterback to lead Vanderbilt’s offense in the fourth quarter. Following a muffed Tennessee punt in the redzone, Seals scored a few plays later on a keeper from the 1-yard line to cut Tennessee’s lead to 45-17. After a missed Volunteers’ field goal, Seals again marched the Commodores down the field and found WR Quincy Skinner with a back-shoulder fade for a three-yard touchdown pass. With Milton III resting for the remainder of the game, freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava ended the game with a field-goal drive as the Volunteers rejoiced on their Senior Night.

“This is a painful finish to a tough season,” Lea said. “But we’re ready to turn the page and move forward.”

With the loss, Vanderbilt finishes the season at 2-10 and without a conference win for the second time in Lea’s three-year tenure. For the Commodores, a long offseason of difficult questions awaits.

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About the Contributors
Anish Mago, Deputy Sports Editor
Anish Mago ('24) is from West Windsor, N.J., and is studying economics and political science in the College of Arts and Science. He previously served as a staff writer for the Sports section. When not writing for The Hustler, Anish enjoys playing basketball and rooting for all Philly sports. He can be reached at .
Barrie Barto, Senior Staff Photographer
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with minors in communication of science & technology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Photography Director. Outside of The Hustler, you can find Barrie cheering on the St. Louis Blues or tracking down the best gluten-free food in Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].
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