It wasn't easy, but Vanderbilt exorcised the demons that haunted this team for nearly 30 years on Saturday night. The Commodores came up big when it mattered most to beat Tennessee at home for the first time since 1982, 41-18.
Jordan Rodgers passed for 245 yards and two touchdowns to lead the 'Dores to their first win over Tennessee since 2005. The win improved the Commodores to 7-4 overall and 5-3 in SEC play. Tennessee dropped to 4-7 and 0-7 in the conference with the loss.
Vandy ended up winning big, and it could have been even worse had head coach James Franklin kept his foot on the gas late in the came. A combination of offensive mistakes and conservative playcalling kept the team from being the third straight opponent to drop 48 points or more against Tennessee.
Vanderbilt had the ball in their court in the third quarter. The 'Dores had two straight touchdown opportunities called back that would have made their game against Tennessee a 34-10 affair. Chris Boyd's touchdown catch had been negated thanks to a sketchy block-in-the-back call on Josh Grady on second down. On the next play, Zac Stacy's throw back to Jordan Rodgers was dropped by the QB when it turned up just short of his hands.. One snap later, Rodgers's touchdown pass deflected off of Kris Kentera's hands and into Byron Moore's orange-and-white clad fingertips.
In 2011, that would have been enough to sink the Commodores. In 2012, James Franklin proved that this was, in fact, a brand new Vanderbilt.
The Commodores, who led only 13-10 at the end of the first half, scored back-to-back touchdowns to open up the second half and put Derek Dooley on red alert in Knoxville (EDIT: and he's fired). Vandy was in trouble before Jordan Matthews took a swing play 47 yards for a touchdown to open up the half. One Andre Hal interception later, Wesley Tate found Kentera as abandoned as a Spartan female newborn baby in the back of the endzone to give the 'Dores a 27-10 lead. Kentera's drop on a sure touchdown pass on the next drive gave Tennessee a chance to come back. Unfortunately for UT fans, they couldn't capitalize.
That was a shame, because Vanderbilt made good on their next two scoring opportunities.
It didn't matter, as Vanderbilt ran to their first win over Tennessee at home in 30 years. The Vols never got closer than 41-18 after that. The ESPN announcers called it best: this was a beatdown.
That means that players like Jordan Rodgers, Zac Stacy, Trey Wilson, Archibald Barnes, Eddie Foster, Eric Samuels, Austin Monahan, Rob Lohr, Johnell Thomas, and Richard Kent will leave Vanderbilt with a defining win on Senior Night. It means that this Commodore team broke a three-decade curse that Tennessee held over them. It means that James Franklin's bold statements have been backed up be results.
That's enormous. It can't be covered through a simple blog writeup. But it will live on through one of the most successful classes in Commodore history. And it will be reflected through a group of students, alumni, and fans who are celebrating like they've never known how before.