Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess
- Vol Network analyst/record-setting defensive back Tim Priest offers some insight on S Eric Berry
- Phillip Fulmer talks about the emotions of the past three weeks since UT decided to make a coaching change
- Phillip Fulmer talks about the changes coming in UT's program
- Phillip Fulmer talks about the Vandy game
- B.J. Coleman talks to the media
- Defensive coordinator John Chavis talks about his future
- An emotional John Chavis talks about Phillip Fulmer's pending departure
- S Eric Berry talks to the media
- DE Robert Ayers talks to the media
Vol Vent Line
NASHVILLE - For one afternoon at least, the status quo survived.
Tennessee's football program has been rocked and rattled to its core in 2008, but the Vols found a refreshing blast of familiarity Saturday.
They walked off the field at Vanderbilt Stadium to the cheers of orange-clad UT fans ringing the end-zone deck above the locker room.
"We're still Tennessee,'' said Phillip Fulmer after his next-to-last game as coach at his alma mater.
"We feel like most of the time we have better players and should win these games.''
The Vols won this one, 20-10, before a bipartisan crowd of 38,725 to send Fulmer into his final week as head coach with at least a measure of satisfaction.
UT (4-7, 2-5 SEC) beat Vanderbilt in Nashville for the 13th consecutive time, dating to 1982.
The Vols, who were three-point underdogs, also avoided an eighth loss that would have been a first in the history of the program.
It was a good thing Vanderbilt (6-5, 4-4) got bowl eligible last week against Kentucky because the Commodores never seriously threatened Saturday.
"The energy level from last week to this week was nowhere near comparable,'' said disappointed Vandy receiver George Smith.
That goes for Tennessee, too.
The Vols were considerably more animated than in their previous outing, a shocking 13-7 loss to Wyoming on Nov. 8, less than a week after learning Fulmer wouldn't be invited back.
They built a 20-0 lead in the first half Saturday and preserved it in the second.
"We needed that time (an open date) to get our minds clear and get our minds on football and nothing else,'' said UT safety Eric Berry.
Berry added to his amazing 2008 highlight video with a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter.
That, in fact, is when the Vols bunched all 20 of their points.
They won the game with a mere 243 yards of total offense and only one sustained touchdown drive.
With 222 of those yards coming on the ground, everyone was left wondering when was the last time UT passed for only 21 yards in a game.
Montario Hardesty's 8-yard touchdown capped a nine-run, 65-yard drive and put the Vols up 7-0.
After an 18-yard Vandy punt, Hardesty ripped off a 27-yard run that set up a 25-yard Daniel Lincoln field goal and a 10-0 lead.
Four plays later, Berry picked off a Chris Nickson pass and raced 45 yards to the end zone.
Two Vanderbilt possessions later, seldom-seen Brent Vinson intercepted a deflected Mackenzi Adams pass and returned it 69 yards to the Commodores' 7.
With only 14 seconds left in the half, UT fired one incomplete pass then left it to Lincoln to kick a 24-yard field goal for a 20-0 lead.
The Vols never threatened to score in the second half, but they didn't need to - Vanderbilt is one of the few offenses in the nation worse than Tennessee's.
UT defensive coordinator John Chavis admitted later he knew there would be no winning Vanderbilt rally forthcoming.
"You won't find me saying that too many times,'' said Chavis. "But our kids were on today.
"They were into what we were doing and executing.''
Vanderbilt managed only 213 yards of offense.
The 'Dores drove to the UT 14 in the third quarter but settled for a 31-yard Bryant Hahnfeldt field goal.
Their only touchdown came via a route all too familiar to Tennessee. Reshard Langford intercepted a B.J. Coleman pass and waltzed 41 yards for a touchdown with 4:20 left in the third quarter.
That's the fourth touchdown opponents have scored off UT offensive turnovers and the third in as many games.
"They got me there on that roll-out,'' Coleman said. "I tried to force one in there.''
It was Vanderbilt's second interception of the day. Jonathan Crompton threw the other on the second play of the game.
Fulmer and offensive coordinator Dave Clawson had seen enough.
"We didn't want to have a turnover and let Vanderbilt back in the game,'' Clawson said. "That was our only goal and they still did it.''
UT did not attempt another pass the rest of the way. The final tally was 51 runs, nine pass attempts.
"They (Vandy) have a very experienced secondary and a nice blitz package,'' said Fulmer. "B.J. was not ready for either of them.
"Jonathan and Nick (Stephens) haven't been the best at taking care of the football. As long as our defense was playing as well as it was, there was no reason to put the lead we had earned at risk.''
Said Coleman, "We put it on the shoulders of the offensive line and they did a heck of a job of opening holes.''
Lennon Creer (80 yards) averaged 6.2 per carry, Hardesty (41 yards) averaged 5.9 and Arian Foster (53 yards) 4.8.
Receiver Gerald Jones rushed six times, Berry four and Coleman seven.
"To run it when the other team and everyone in the stadium knows you're going to run it is not easy,'' said Clawson.
Not that anything has been easy in this tormented season. At least Fulmer and the Vols feel better about themselves heading into one last week and a final date with Kentucky.
"I'm the proud owner of a game ball,'' Fulmer said. "I gave it to Eric and he gave it back to me.''
"It feels lots better,'' said Chavis. "It's not good enough just to play well.
"At least when you win you can smile a little bit and that makes it worth it.''
When the Vols come to Nashville, they always leave with a smile.
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276.