Tennessee added to Vanderbilt’s season of misery Saturday with a 38-0 victory before 102,519 at Neyland Stadium. It was the Commodores third straight loss and leaves only next week’s game at Ole Miss for Widenhofer’s troops to salvage what has been a lost year. Vanderbilt is 2-8 and 0-7 in the Southeastern Conference.
Tennessee outgained the Commodores 474-205 on the day, with quarterback Casey Clausen doing the most damage (20-29, 278 yards, 2 touchdowns). Wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth also had a big afternoon, catching four passes for 128 yards and a touchdown and returning a punt for a touchdown.
There was disappointment all around on the Vanderbilt side. The Commodores suffered breakdowns on offense (5 sacks, 3 interceptions), defense (an 80-yard touchdown pass) and special teams (a 55-yard punt return for touchdown).
“I think our kids played hard,” Widenhofer said. “I don’t think they went out there and laid down. They played about as hard as they can play. I’m proud of them for that.”
Offensively, the Commodores were simply overmatched. Vanderbilt failed to penetrate the Tennessee 29-yard line. Greg Zolman completed 17 of 26 passes, but gained just 144 yards through the air.
Unlike some of the recent Tennessee-Vanderbilt contests, this one was pretty much decided by halftime. Tennessee (9-1, 6-1) scored the first three times it touched the ball to take a 14-0 lead on a pair of Alex Walls field goals and a Clausen touchdown pass to Kelley Washington. Stallworth then returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown, making it 21-0 and presenting Vanderbilt with a hill it was unequipped to climb.
“We had a lot of confidence coming in,” said running back Rodney Williams, who ran for 72 yards on 21 carries. “Basically, we just didn’t get the job done. We had opportunities and we didn’t capitalize. UT is a great team. Against great teams, you can’t make any mistakes.
What few turning points the game did have occurred early. Late in the first quarter with UT leading 3-0, Will Bartholomew appeared to fumble at midfield after catching a pass from Clausen. The play was ruled an incomplete pass, however, and UT went on to drive for a field goal.
Midway through the second quarter, Vanderbilt trailed 6-0 and forced Tennessee into a fourth-and-three situation at the Vanderbilt 17. The Vols eschewed the field goal and converted with a seven-yard pass from Clausen to Graham. Washington scored on the next play from 10 yards out, UT punched in a two-point conversion and the Vols led 14-0.
“I was proud of our defense today,” said linebacker Nate Morrow. “We were put in some bad situations and we fought through them. They have a good offensive football team and I think we did a good job defensively. We didn’t make some key plays in key places, and that would have made a difference.”