Tennessee ended its three-year losing skid to Vanderbilt Saturday as the Vols won an ugly game 28-10 in the rainy conditions at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee didn’t have the Jarrett Guarantano that threw for over 400 yards last week against Missouri as the Vols passing attack struggled to get going.
The redshirt-junior signal caller went 6-for-17 passing, throwing for 120 yards, an interception and touchdown in the win.
“Early in the game the ball was wet,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “We didn’t throw the ball or catch the ball well, so we had to run the football. Our guys did a nice job.”
“I think we’re a very diverse offense,” receiver Marquez Callaway said. “We have a lot of dynamic players that can run, catch, throw, block. I think we have a lot of talent. … Obviously today the passing game wasn’t going because of the rain. The running game stepped up.”
With the passing game struggling to get going the Vols turned to their run game to generate offense. For the first time this season, Tennessee was able to lean on the run game to pick up a SEC win.
Tennessee ran for 297 yards in total, as freshman Eric Gray starred rushing for 246 yards for the Vols.
“That’s just a credit to the (offensive) line,” Gray said. “I came into the game prepared like I always do, it just broke for me tonight. Credit to the o-line, credit to the coaches.”
Gray quadrupled his career touchdowns on the afternoon finding the endzone twice in the first half and a third time in the second half. First, Gray got Tennessee on the board late in the first quarter breaking a 56-yard run for a touchdown. At the time it was Tennessee’s longest run of the season.
It wouldn’t stay that way for long.
Ten minutes later the freshman broke it himself. Leading 14-3, Gray recorded the longest run by a freshman in SEC history taking one 94-yards to the house, giving Tennessee a comfortable 21-3 lead.
“I didn’t get a chance to see it,” Gray said of Brandon Kennedy and Jerome Carvin’s blocks that sprung the play. “But I know they made a heck of a block because when I broke there was no one there. No one in the second level, once I broke through the line there was no one there.”
The Vols 297 rushing yards were their most of the season and more than Tennessee ran for in its last two wins combined.
It wasn’t the prettiest performance for Tennessee, but like they have in the second half of this season they found a way to win.
Whether they’ve needed a goal line stand, a passing attack to throw it all over the yard or a run first attack the Vols have found a way to pick up wins.
That’s a testament to this senior class, a group that’s done a lot of losing in their time in Knoxville. However, guys like Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, Daniel Bituli, Nigel Warrior and Darrell Taylor stayed bought into this team and their coach even when most had given up on the season after the Vols’ 0-2 start.
“These guys have put a whole lot of energy and effort into putting Tennessee football back where it needs to be,” Pruitt said. “I can’t say enough about the seniors, the leadership that they’ve provided throughout the course of the year. … These guys stayed the course, stuck together.”
The win improves Tennessee’s record to 7-5 (5-3) marking the Vols’ best record since 2016 and their best SEC record since 2015.
Tennessee now awaits its bowl destination which will be announced next Sunday following conference championship games.