Game recap: Tennessee 27, Vanderbilt 21
Tennessee Stat Book
The right hand of Tyler Bray clearly wasn't at full strength.
A healthy one for Da'Rick Rogers was enough to make up for it.
Bray's return at quarterback for Tennessee wasn't his finest outing, marked by a few wild throws and some clear rust after more than a month on the sideline with a broken thumb. But his sophomore receiver had nothing wrong with his big right paw, which was all he needed to tip and grab a game-turning touchdown in a 27-21 overtime win over Vanderbilt on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
"I knew I had to make a play for my seniors and this team," Rogers said. "The ball went in the air, I released, as soon as I tipped it, I'm like, 'Oh, my God. I'm fixing to catch this.' I just reached out, caught it, got two feet in and celebrated at the goal line.
"I mean, Tyler Bray is a warrior. He's a tough guy and even if his hand was hurting, he probably wouldn't have shown it or said anything about it. I think he handled it well, first game back from a broken hand, he was throwing it pretty good."
As long as Bray could get the ball somewhere in the general vicinity of his favorite target, that was good enough for Rogers as he consistently beat schemes designed to limit his impact to help the Vols (5-6, 1-6 SEC) knock off an instate rival and keep their bowl hopes alive heading into the last week of the regular season.
The Commodores (5-6, 2-6) were able to pressure Bray at times, and his accuracy wasn't as sharp as it was when he was picking apart defenses early in the season before banging his throwing hand into a helmet and having to sit out for five games. But he was able to regularly find Rogers and put a ball somewhere in his area — twice in the end zone on the way to 10 catches, 116 yards and the highlight reel.
"He did, (Bray) struggled a lot," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "I told you guys he wasn't going to look like his form from six weeks ago — but he made enough plays to win the game.
"(Rogers) has been playing good, but Tyler is his guy and they've got a little body language going. He made a great play on that fade."
Both of his scores required a bit of extra effort, though the second was packed with a lot more pressure and a higher degree of difficulty than the back-shoulder throw he had to make an adjustment on to snag for a 17-yard score in the second quarter.
With the Vols trailing and facing a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the fourth quarter, Bray lofted a ball to the right side of the formation with Rogers in a one-on-one matchup — and from there it was all up to him.
"He's a big-time receiver," Bray said. "He's going against a big-time corner, and he's got to make a play. I mean, we always have to win contested balls.
"I knew he was going to get it."
After initially bumping it slightly back to himself, Rogers eventually did just that thanks to a strong grip that had no physical limitations.
That certainly wasn't the case for Bray, who wasn't able to take snaps from under center, had to tinker with the gloves he was wearing to help control the football and forced a couple balls into coverage while completing 16 of 33 passes for 189 yards and two interceptions.
But he had at least one guy more than capable of lending a hand.
"The team morale went up when he came back, and it's good for everything," Rogers said. "I go out every game and give my all, just like I did tonight. It's just that Tyler Bray is an impact player, he's a playmaker and he really makes a lot of things look a lot easier than they are.
"With that help, it makes it a lot easier to score touchdowns and make plays."