JOE BIDDLE: A rivalry erupts on West End

Vanderbilt
(Photo: WKRN)

Alabama and Auburn have the Iron Bowl. Most years they are two competitive teams.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State fight over the Egg Bowl trophy at the end of the regular season.

Vanderbilt and Tennessee usually play for pride. No trophies. No real rivalry because of Vanderbilt’s lower ranking in the SEC. Tennessee had dominated the series.

Such wasn’t the case Saturday night at Vanderbilt Stadium when the Vols were fighting for their life against the suddenly jacked up, explosive Commodore team. The Vols were already bowl eligible, but wanted to impress major bowls such as the Sugar Bowl.

Vanderbilt just wanted to give Coach Derek Mason his first trip to a bowl game. Any bowl game. The Commodores needed to beat the Vols to officially qualify for a bowl game with six wins.

“I’m so excited for these seniors team,’’ Mason said, excitement showing all over his body. “They got it done. We got it done.

“We are back in the mix. Yeh! We wanted a victory. We didn’t want to go in the back door. We wanted to get to the door and kick it in.’’

They came through, even though a number of Vanderbilt fans had left the stadium by the final score of 45-34 was posted on the scoreboard. Tennessee fans had to watch their team be outscored 21-3 in the second half.

The Vols had made a habit this season of coming back from behind, but could they pull it off one more time?

No. They didn’t have what it took. Credit Vanderbilt for that.

The heat is officially on Tennessee Coach Butch Jones this off-season and next year. He earned it by losing to Vanderbilt on the final game of the regular season, leaving an overall 8-4 record overall, 4-4 in the SEC and having his team to settle for a minor bowl game.

It was hard for Jones, his staff and players to swallow.

Vols fans had to have a sick feeling after watching their fall apart in the second half. Jones cited missed tackles and other mistakes.

The first half was a track meet on both sides of the football. Neither coach was bragging on its defense at intermission.

It was 31-24 Tennessee at halftime, but Vanderbilt was matching the Vols touchdown for touchdown.

It had three ties and neither team could get clear of the other. The biggest lead in the first half was when the Vols went ahead 21-7, but a long completion to Caleb Scott from quarterback Kyle Shurmur set up a Vandy touchdown, to make it 21-14. A touchdown run by Ralph Webb tied the game up at 21-21 with 7:57 left in the first half.

The Commodores came in banking on its defense, but it was their offense that was unexpected.

The Vols came in 8-3 and hoping to increase its resume for a higher bowl invitation. Some pundits had them coming to the Sugar Bowl. They would be satisfied with the Sugar Bowl and they would provide a sellout crowd in the Superdome. That won’t happen.

Tennessee’s defense was porous, and Vanderbilt took advantage. In the last three games the Vols defense has given up 635, 720 and 608 yards to opponents’ offenses. Vanderbilt’s defense was leaky at times in this game, as they were hampered by a rash of missed tackles, making Tennessee’s offense look more lethal that it was.

Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara made it look easy, scoring three touchdowns in the first half. On one touchdown, five Commodores had prime shots at the speedy Vol and came up empty handed.

Vols QB Josh Dobbs hit on 31 of 34 of his passes for the game. They accounted for two touchdowns.

But it was Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur that saved his best for the last. He was 21 of 34 for 416 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

“They made more plays at the end of the day,’’ Jones said.

Numbers didn’t matter. There were no excuses anywhere. The scoreboard told all you needed to know.

Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He can be reached at joebiddle11@gmail.com.