It looked grim for Vanderbilt when they took the field on offense for the last time Saturday night, the ball on their own 8-yard line and Tennessee holding a 10-7 lead with a 4:16 left. The Commodores had not scored for almost 47 minutes of game time, had gained less than 200 yards of offense and had just one drive of more than 40 yards.
At one point, Austyn Carta-Samuels snuck the ball on 4th-and-1 and was initially spotted short of the first down, before a review with 48 seconds left on the clock correctly moved the spot just far enough forward to give the Commodores new life. A 25-yard bomb from Carta-Samuels to Jordan Matthews came two plays later. And on the second play after that, Patton Robinette ran a fake jump pass -- called or not -- that gave him just enough room to run to the right for the game-winning touchdown.
It was an exciting ending to a sloppy game. The teams combined for seven turnovers -- including an interception on a fake field goal -- 12 penalties for 135 yards and an average of 4.1 yards a play. They were 9-of-28 on third and fourth down. Matthews receiving and Carta-Samuels passing were the only players to top 100 yards in any offensive category.
With the loss, the door finally slammed shut on the Volunteers' hopes for a bowl. That added insult to injury for Tennessee fans, almost all of whom won't remember the last time Vanderbilt beat the Vols for two straight years, but any effect on Butch Jones' rebuilding effort should be mild. He'll lose a few practices and it might make recruiting a bit harder, but those aren't hurdles that can't be overcome.
But for Vanderbilt, it's hard to imagine a more important win. They have now beaten Tennessee twice in a row for the first time since 1925-1926. A win against Wake Forest would send the Commodores to a bowl game with a chance to win nine games in consecutive seasons, something that has never happened. If Vanderbilt can find a way to keepon the sideline, they could truly be a program in the middle of a transformation. Starting with turning around the team's most important rivalry.