In improving to 9-2, 5-2 in the SEC, Phillip Fulmer's Volunteers dominated in every phase of the game. The Commodores (2-10, 1-7), who had managed to stay in almost every game this season, were out of this one almost from the opening kickoff. The Vols built a 41-0 lead in the first half and never looked back on the way to their fifth straight win, and their 21st straight win over Vandy.
Playing in its 2003 season finale, Vanderbilt showed little of the spark that had been evident the previous week in a win over Kentucky. The Commodore offense was shut out for the third year in a row by a stingy Tennessee defense, while Clausen and the Vol offense proved nearly unstoppable.
"They manhandled us and there wasn't much we could do," Vanderbilt Head Coach Bobby Johnson said. "We talked a good game during the week and before the game, but we didn't match Tennessee's intensity. If you don't, you're in trouble. They were extra good, playing like they had something at stake."
To Vanderbilt's surprise, Tennessee came out throwing the football behind Clausen, and did so with great effectiveness. Clausen finished 15-of-29 passing for 262 yards and three touchdowns, and scored another touchdown himself on a quarterback sneak. The senior quarterback was pulled from the game early in the fourth quarter, to a standing ovation from the 100,496 in attendance.
Clausen was aided by a number of spectacular catches by Volunteer receivers, including one by Tony Brown for the Vols' first touchdown, and another by Chris Hannon in the second quarter that put the Vols up 31-0.
Another Tennessee senior, all-purpose athlete Mark Jones, broke Vandy's back with a 58-yard punt return for a score, and a 51-yard interception return that set up another Vol touchdown. Placekicker James Wilhoit added two field goals, while running back Jabari Davis added a rushing touchdown for the Vols.
Tennessee took a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter on Jones' electrifying punt return, and when Hannon caught a 38-yard bomb with 8:03 remaining in the second quarter to give the Vols a 31-0 lead, the game was all but over. Trailing 41-0 at halftime, Bobby Johnson's Commodores had little to play for in the second half but pride.
The crowd of mostly orange-wearing patrons began trickling out slowly in the third quarter, as both teams began substituting liberally. Even against the Vols' second-string defense, Vanderbilt never managed a serious scoring threat.
Vanderbilt junior offensive lineman Brian Kovolisky left the game with an injury in the second quarter, forcing Vandy to play inexperienced redshirt freshman Adam Dossett much of the game at offensive guard. Playing most of the game with three freshmen on the line, the Commodore offense was held to a mere 125 yards rushing, 66 yards passing, 13 first downs and a 3.0-yard-per-play average.
Quarterback Jay Cutler, who had turned in the performance of his life the week before vs. Kentucky, stayed on the run most of the day and managed only 9-of-25 completions with two interceptions. He ran the ball 10 times, and led the team in rushing with 27 yards.
Vanderbilt finished its second season under Bobby Johnson 2-10, a record identical to 2002. Despite the record, Johnson insisted after the game that his team was improved over the previous year, and had shown improvement as the 2003 season progressed.
"The record doesn't show it," said Johnson, "but we played some good games that we had a chance to win. We've got to concentrate on getting in those kind of situations every game, and taking advantage of them."
Tennessee (9-2, 5-2 SEC) still has one regular-season game remaining, vs. Kentucky next Saturday in Lexington. If the Volunteers win that one, tie-breaker procedures will determine whether Tennessee, Georgia or Florida represents the East in the SEC Championship Game Dec. 6 in Atlanta.
Senior tight end Nick Getter missed the game due to a death in the family, and Dustin Dunning sat out the game due to injury. Curtis Brancheau started the game at tight end, and true freshman Jonathan Loyte saw plenty of action there as well.
|Bill Alford intercepts a pass intended for Tennessee's Corey Larkins, behind, during the first quarter of the game Saturday. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)|
The Commodores substituted liberally late in the game. Backup quarterback Steven Bright entered the game in the fourth quarter, and senior Benji Walker entered the game for a series in the final minute. Backup running backs Ronald Hatcher, Jason Bourque and Ron Bullock all carried the ball in the fourth quarter.
The Commodore defense came up with two turnovers: safety Andrew Pace had a fumble recovery, and cornerback Bill Alford (right) had an interception of a long pass from Clausen.