No. 9 Tennessee 14, Vanderbilt 7
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Tennessee’s defense didn’t want another upset at the hands of an intrastate rival and took matters into its own hands Saturday night.
The ninth-ranked Volunteers (9-2, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) intercepted two passes and had two of their four sacks in the fourth quarter as Tennessee held off Vanderbilt 14-7.
``We’ll take a win no matter how we can get it,″ said Peyton Manning. ``Memphis taught us that lesson.″
Vanderbilt (2-7, 0-8) stirred memories of Tennessee’s 21-17 loss to Memphis on Nov. 9 when the Commodores pulled within 14-7 just seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Commodores were looking for their first upset of a ranked team this season after falling just short earlier against Notre Dame, Alabama and Florida.
But Tennessee’s defense made the Vols’ lead stand up by sacking Damian Allen four times, forcing three turnovers and allowing just 139 total yards.
``It was a heck of a football game,″ said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. ``If you didn’t care who won, you probably really enjoyed it.″
Tennessee, which has now won 14 straight and 20 of the last 21 against Vanderbilt, led 14-0 at halftime as Jay Graham capped the Volunteers’ best drive of the game with a 4-yard run in the second quarter. Linebacker Tyrone Hines picked up a Marcus A. Williams fumble and returned it 61 yards for the Vols’ other TD.
The Volunteers, which came in averaging 448 yards a game, finished with 300 total yards against a Vanderbilt defense ranked 29th in the nation.
But Tennessee, ranked eighth in total defense giving up 246 yards, responded by holding Vandy to just 29 total yards through three quarters.
``The defense kept us in it the whole game,″ said Manning, who finished 17-of-35 for 163 yards and one interception.
Allen, who had thrown just six touchdown passes in the past three seasons, helped the Commodores avoid their fourth shutout with a fourth-quarter rally.
Freshman Todd Yoder beat cornerback Terry Fair and caught Allen’s pass at the Tennessee 38 and scored on the 82-yard play to pull Vandy within 14-7 23 seconds into the final quarter.
``We knew it was a fluke,″ said defensive end Jonathan Brown. ``They hadn’t drove the ball on us all game, so we just got back out and put solid defense on the field.″
Vanderbilt’s defense forced Tennessee to punt on its next possession, and Allen started moving the Commodores again when Raymond Austin intercepted his pass for Billy Miller at the Vol 22.
DeReal Finklin gave Vandy another chance by recovering Marcus Nash’s fumble at the Tennessee 27 with 4:54 left. But Fair intercepted Allen’s pass at the Tennessee 7 on the next play.
Vandy’s last chance ended when Allen tried to connect with Yoder one more time on fourth-and-16, but Yoder was stopped short with 1:31 left.
Vanderbilt finished the season winless in the SEC for the first time since going 0-7 under Watson Brown in 1989.
``We’re just learning to do what we’re trying to accomplish,″ said coach Rod Dowhower, 4-18 after two seasons at Vanderbilt. ``When we become more consistent, we’re going to have a chance to succeed.″
Tennessee struggled in a rainy first half with just 100 yards and didn’t pick up a first down until its fifth series just before the first quarter ended. But Manning got untracked and completed all six of his passes on a 12-play drive capped by Graham’s 4-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 11:09 left in the second quarter. Graham finished with 99 yards on 22 carries.