Vanderbilt defeated the rival Tennessee Volunteers 38 to 13 on senior night.
Both teams entered the game at 5-6, so with the victory, Vanderbilt will not only earn bowl eligibility, but the Commodores will end the Volunteers’ season.
Vanderbilt earns its third straight win over Tennessee and reach its second bowl game under head coach Derek Mason and its first since 2016.
“These seniors deserve this,” Mason said. “These seniors deserve the opportunity to go bowling.”
Senior Jordan Griffin said, “We’re a tight group, and as much time as we can have together, it’s all worth it in the end.”
Fellow senior Josh Smith said, “We love each other. We’re brothers. This is going to go one past this season, past this game. It’s a brotherhood that’s going to last for a lifetime.”
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur completed his first 15 passes of the day before his 16th attempt went through the hands of Khari Blasingame at the end of the first half. Shurmur, playing in his final home game as a Commodore, completed 89% of his passes and threw for 367 yards.
Mason said, “I thought Kyle Shurmur had the game of his life.”
Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was a man with a plan against Tennessee. He incorporated plenty of short passes and runs up the middle to methodically move the Commodores down the field and take time off of the clock.
Vanderbilt’s two first-half touchdown drives took 7:04 and 5:21 off the clock respectively. The team controlled the ball for over 43 minutes.
On Vanderbilt’s second drive, Kyle Shurmur faked a double-reverse and found Ke’Shawn Vaughn for 19 yards. Vaughn caught a screen pass and gained 14 yards a few plays later. On third down, Kalija Lipscomb muscled his way to a first down. The next play, Shurmur threw a perfect pass to Jared Pinkney for the touchdown.
Pinkney caught four passes for 40 yards in the game.
The defense forced a three-and-out from Tennessee on the next possession. The unit forced four three-and-outs and three four-play drives on the day.
Vanderbilt got the ball back on Tennessee’s 34-yard line. The trio of running backs split carries on the drive, after Vaughn was hit hard on his second rush of the drive. Vaughn ran twice for 10 yards, Blasingame gained eight yard on two carries, and Jamauri Wakefield added four yards on one carry. Blasingame also caught two passes for 21 yards.
Vaughn eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on the season, and he became the 6th player in Vanderbilt history to reach the mark.
Blasingame picked up the workload after Vaughn left the game. Blasingame had 132 all-purpose yards.
On first-and-goal from the Volunteers’ two-yard line, Vanderbilt dialed up a creative play. Kyle Shurmur handed the ball off to wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb, who walked into the end zone untouched.
Lipscomb pulled double duty on the day. He ran five times for six yards and a touchdown and caught eight passes for 86 yards.
Mason said of Lipscomb, “He got hurt early in the ballgame, and nobody knew, and that dude played throughout. Hats off to that dude because he didn’t have to, but he wanted to.”
Ryley Guay tacked on a 43-yard field goal at the end of next offensive drive to stretch the lead to 17-0 at the half.
On the first play of the third quarter, Tennessee running back Ty Chandler sprinted up the right sideline for a 75-yard touchdown run to put the Volunteers on the scoreboard.
Shurmur responded by throwing a dart to C.J. Bolar for a 41-yard gain. Shurmur, with pressure in his face, found Bolar up the middle at midfield, and Bolar added 20 yards after the catch to reach Tennessee’s 30-yard line.
Two plays later, Shurmur tossed an accurate pass to Lipscomb for 21 yards. But, the Commodores came up empty on the drive when Guay hit the right upright on a 19-yard field goal attempt.
After allowing a 19-yard run to Volunteers running back Tim Jordan, Vanderbilt’s defense buckled down to force a short punt by Tennessee. Josh Smith sacked Tennessee signal caller Jarrett Guarantano on the drive to stop any momentum.
Both teams had two three-and-outs each on the following possessions.
Vanderbilt started the fourth quarter off with two back-to-back incredible catches.
First, Lipscomb made yet another Superman-esque catch as he leaped over a Tennessee defender and barely got one foot in bounds. The 23-yard catch set up Vanderbilt at Tennessee’s 26-yard line.
On the next play, Shurmur threw a low pass to freshman wide receiver Amir Abdur-Rahman, who went low to grab the touchdown throw. The catch was his second his career and his first touchdown.
With Vanderbilt ahead 24-7, the Commodore’s defense stopped Tennessee again.
Blasingame reeled off a 21-yard run, shedding off multiple Volunteers before he was brought down at the one-yard line of Tennessee. He picked up that final yard on second-and-goal with a rush to the left side.
Vanderbilt widened the lead to 31-7, and the stadium got loud as Tennessee fans headed for the exits.
Mason said, “It was a great crowd. I loved seeing black and gold out there. I’ve been out there many times where I’ve seen more orange than I did black and gold, but not tonight.”
Tennessee’s Guarantano would not give up quite yet. He threw a 43-yard pass to Jauan Jennings before finding Marquez Callaway for a touchdown.
Josh Smith came up clutch again on defense, and he broke up Guarantano’s pass on the two-point attempt.
Cody Markel caught a touchdown pass on Vanderbilt’s next drive, as Vanderbilt extended the lead to 25 points. The catch was the first of Markel’s career.
Vanderbilt will learn its bowl destination next Sunday after the conference championship games.