Game recap: Tennessee 27, Vanderbilt 21
Tennessee Stat Book
The game couldn't just end with a touchdown. That would have been too simple for a game as unconventional as this one and for a team that has struggled so mightily to achieve any semblance of success.
First came Eric Gordon's 90-yard interception return for a touchdown in overtime. Then came the official review.
No, his knee hadn't touched when he made the catch. The touchdown counted.
So did the celebration. UT's sigh of relief was almost as loud.
Beating Vanderbilt might be business as usual for Tennessee. But there was nothing usual about UT's methods in a 27-21 victory.
The most bizarre play of the evening had nothing to do with the delayed confirmation of Gordon's game-winning interception. Instead, it was the setup to UT's game-tying, fourth-quarter touchdown.
The score was preceded by a blocked field goal. And the team that blocked it was penalized for its efforts.
Michael Palardy kicked an embarrassingly low liner into the mass of bodies at the line of scrimmage just before Vanderbilt's Sean Richardson dove into him. Since Richardson didn't touch the ball, he was guilty of running into the kicker.
The penalty advanced the ball to the Vanderbilt 2-yard line, after which quarterback Tyler Bray completed a fourth-down touchdown pass to Da'Rick Rogers. Palardy then managed to kick the ball over the goal post to tie the game.
The touchdown was surprising for a couple of reasons: the Vols had gone five consecutive games without scoring in the second half; with all the mistakes Vanderbilt made in the first half, who would have thought a UT comeback would have been necessary?
The Commodores committed enough errors to lose two games in the first half.
Placekicker Ryan Fowler missed field goals of 34 and 44 yards. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers set up UT's first touchdown with a fumble and also threw an interception. He would have thrown a second first-half interception if either one of two Vols had been able to hold the ball.
One mishap led to another in this game, which ended with both teams needing a victory in their final regular-season games Saturday to qualify for a bowl.
Rodgers, who has given Vanderbilt's offense a huge boost in the second half of the season, threw two more interceptions after halftime. Bray threw two interceptions to Vanderbilt linebacker Archibald Barnes, who returned one 100 yards for a touchdown. His other interception set up Vanderbilt's first score.
Never mind the damage from those two errant passes. Saturday's game reminded you how much the Vols need Bray, who had been out six weeks after breaking the thumb on his right hand.
Even on an off night, Bray makes plays. He also raises the spirits and confidence of a team that so often suffers from a lack of playmakers.
On UT's second touchdown drive, UT fans could recall what their offense looked like before Bray was injured.
The drive ended on a 17-yard touchdown throw from Bray to Rogers. The same combination accounted for three other completions and 43 more yards during the Vols' best drive of the game.
Bray's return wasn't the only cause for celebration. Last season — Derek Dooley's first as UT's coach — the Vols lost two agonizingly close games to LSU and North Carolina under strange, last-second circumstances.
Finally, a strange, close game had gone their way. And no one appreciated it more than Dooley.
"We got the breaks tonight," Dooley said. "It was the first time I feel like we had good luck on our side."