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Vanderbilt throttles Tennessee, 38-13, to clinch bowl eligibility

The Commodores beat the Vols for the third year in a row, and fifth time in the last seven.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Vanderbilt Commodores came into their regular-season finale against the Tennessee Volunteers needing a win to clinch bowl eligibility. They did so with a win that was never really in any doubt.

Kyle Shurmur completed his first 15 passes of the afternoon, and the defense completely smothered Tennessee’s offense in the first half, giving the Commodores a 17-0 halftime lead in spite of Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s day coming to an early end — the redshirt junior exited in the first half with an apparent shoulder injury. Instead, Shurmur and the passing game picked up the slack, along with Khari Blasingame, who ran 19 times for 68 yards and a touchdown, and also had six catches for 62 yards.

But the real story was Shurmur and the defense. Shurmur simply could not miss his receivers, finishing the game 31-for-35 passing for 367 yards and three touchdowns. His first touchdown pass came on a 17-yard strike to Jared Pinkney in the first quarter, giving the Commodores a 7-0 lead. Kalija Lipscomb extended the lead with a two-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and Ryley Guay tacked on a 42-yard field goal toward the end of the first half, immediately after Shurmur threw his first and only incompletion of the half.

On the other side, Tennessee’s offense could not get anything going in the first half, ending the half with just 75 yards of total offense — most of them coming on their first drive of the game. Tennessee’s second and third drives ended with punts, and the Volunteer offense barely saw the field in the first half in between long scoring drives by the Commodores.

For a while in the third quarter, though, Vanderbilt looked like they might let Tennessee come back. Ty Chandler took the first play of the second half 75 yards to make it 17-7, and after an 11-play drive, Vanderbilt’s Ryley Guay missed a 19-yard field goal. But with the offense not really going anywhere, Vanderbilt’s defense stepped up and kept the Vols off the board for the remainder of the third quarter.

Finally, once the fourth quarter started, Vanderbilt extended the lead after a pair of big catches: Kalija Lipscomb caught a 23-yard pass — while a Tennessee defender was committing pass interference, to boot — and then freshman Amir Abdur-Rahman caught his first career touchdown on a 26-yard strike. After a Tennessee punt, Khari Blasingame put the final dagger in the Vols’ hopes with a one-yard touchdown run to make the score 31-7. Tennessee did briefly show some life, cutting it to 31-13 on Jarrett Guarantano’s only touchdown pass of the day, but Shurmur tacked on another touchdown in response, finding Cody Markel for a two-yard touchdown pass to make the final 38-13.

Vanderbilt finishes the regular season 6-6, 3-5 in the SEC, and will make a bowl game for just the ninth time in school history. Tennessee finishes 5-7 and 2-6 in the SEC, and has now lost three in a row to Vanderbilt.