Photo by Riley Haltom (@rileyhaltom on X)
By Tucker Harlin
KNOXVILLE, Tenn- No. 21 Tennessee (8-4, 4-4) trounced 48-24 over Vanderbilt (2-10, 0-8) on Senior Day in Neyland Stadium Saturday. The win was the Vols’ eightieth all-time against the Commodores.
“I’m really proud of this group,” said Vols head coach Josh Heupel. “A lot of these guys chose to stay here through some uncertainty and bought into our vision for the program
The Vols found the end zone on their first possession. Quarterback Joe Milton connected with receiver Ramel Keyton down the field for a 56-yard play, giving the Vols an advantage a minute into the game.
“I want my legacy to be that I gave my all for Tennessee,” Keyton said.
The Commodores struck back on their first possession. Chunk run plays from running back Sedrick Alexander put them across the 50, and a pop pass to receiver Junior Sherrill went for the 20-yard score to tie the game.
Both teams had a pair of punts before the Vols answered back. A 26-yard run by Jabari Small put the Vols in the red zone, and Milton found tight end McCallan Castles on a 10-yard wheel route in the left corner of the end zone.
“It’s a play we have had in for a couple of weeks and we’ve kind of been keeping it on the back end,” Castles said. “The whole time in practice Joe (Milton) said ‘That guy’s gonna be on you and I’m gonna throw it over the top of his head.’ I just had to make the catch and the rest is history.”
Big plays to tight end Jacob Warren highlighted the Vols’ next scoring drive.
Milton found him for 28 yards on the final play of the first quarter. Milton later connected with him on a 34-yard passing touchdown to extend the Vols’ lead to 14.
“This program has come a long way, and the way that we play the game has changed a lot since I’ve been here,” Warren said. “That’s something that I’m very proud of to have a hand in.”
Kickers Jacob Borcila and Charles Campbell hit a field goal each on the next two possessions, making the score 24-10.
The Commodores’ next possession featured both false start and delay of game penalties on third down, and AJ Swann was hit by the Vols’ front on both plays.
Commodores head coach Clark Lea was furious with the lack of protection for his quarterback and received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. After the next play, a melee broke loose between both teams and fouls were assessed on both sides.
“I don’t know what happened, I know a lot of chaos started going on,” Vols linebacker Aaron Beasley said about the skirmish. “I thought that it was funny but I thought we regrouped well.”
The Vols scored on the final possession of the first half. A defensive pass interference penalty at the goal line put the Vols at the Commodores’ 2-yard line. Milton took an option to the right and scored, stretching the lead to 31-10 at half.
After forcing the Commodores to punt, the Vols scored on their first possession of the half.
A couple of milestones were met on the drive.
For one, Jaylen Wright became the first Vols running back to rush for over 1,000 yards since Jalen Hurd in 2015. Additionally, Milton’s touchdown pass to Ramel Keyton put him over 300 pass yards for the game, something he had never done in his collegiate career.
“It absolutely is a group achievement,” Heupel said about Wright’s achievement. “The offensive line room takes great pride in getting a 1,000-yard rusher.”
Two possessions later, the Vols scored their last touchdown of the game.
The 81-yard drive was capped by another 2-yard rush touchdown to the right by Milton to stretch the lead to 35. With the score, Milton accounted for six touchdowns in the game, the most by a Vols quarterback since Jonathan Crompton against Memphis in 2009.
“You go out with a bang. Every game you try to do that, most importantly this last one inside the stadium,” Milton said. “That’s the legacy that I’m gonna hold onto and leave it with my guy Nico (Iamaleava).”
The Commodores scored a pair of touchdowns in the last quarter and the Vols cashed in on a field goal in the closing seconds.
The Vols will have the next month off to prepare for their bowl. A bowl destination will be announced a week from today.