Vols end six-game slump by cruising past Commodores

AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee tight end Princeton Fant celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Vanderbilt on Saturday in Nashville.

NASHVILLE - Sarah Fuller made history and the Tennessee Volunteers avoided history Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.

The Vols avoided the first seven-game losing streak in program history by dodging an early Vanderbilt attack and then rolling to a 42-17 victory over the depleted Commodores before an announced crowd of 849 consisting of family members of the players. Tennessee opened this season with wins over South Carolina and Missouri and climbed to No. 14 in The Associated Press poll, but that was followed by six consecutive setbacks by double-digit margins.

Quarterbacks Harrison Bailey and J.T. Shrout combined to complete 20 of 31 passes for 297 yards and four touchdowns as the Vols prevailed for the first time in 10 Saturdays.

"The losses are about me, and the wins are about the players," Tennessee third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt said after the much-needed victory. "I didn't play any plays tonight, and these guys went out there and worked hard. They worked hard all week, and it's good to see them get a chance to be on top."

The Vols racked up 540 total yards, with Bailey completing 14 of 18 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, including a 74-yarder to Velus Jones with 7:03 remaining to cap the scoring. Shrout was 6-of-13 for 90 yards and two scores but was also intercepted.

Bailey, a freshman, got his second straight start but was replaced by Shrout early in the second quarter with the Vols down 10-7. Bailey went 7-for-7 for 67 yards and a touchdown out of the gate but lost a fumble on a sack before being supplanted by Shrout, a redshirt sophomore.

"We kind of went with a feel for it there," Pruitt said. "Harrison is not going to do anything but improve, and on that fumble, there are lots of things he needs to work on. We had a plan to play J.T., because he played really well last week, and we thought he did well.

"We decided to go back with Harrison after halftime and gave them both opportunities."

Brian Maurer also played and had a 22-yard run, leaving former starter Jarrett Guarantano as Tennessee's only quarterback for a second consecutive Saturday who didn't get any action.

photo AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee quarterback Harrison Bailey is chased by Vanderbilt linebacker Andre Mintze during the first half Saturday in Nashville.

Jones led Tennessee's receivers with seven catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns, while freshman Jalin Hyatt added five for 81 and a score. A graduate transfer from Southern California, Jones collected his first score with the Vols in last weekend's 31-19 loss to No. 6 Florida.

"I haven't felt this way in a long time," Jones said. "I feel like I'm back in my high school days."

Vanderbilt dropped to 0-9 and must defeat Georgia in Athens next Saturday or else endure the first winless season in program history. The Commodores have lost 13 consecutive Southeastern Conference contests since upsetting Missouri 21-14 on Oct. 19 of last year.

It was admirable simply for Vanderbilt to play Saturday, as the Commodores have been riddled by player opt-outs and coronavirus-related limitations. They competed with just 49 scholarship players.

Tennessee junior cornerback Bryce Thompson, the first Vol to wear the "0" jersey allowed for the first time this year by the NCAA, abruptly turned the game around at the 8:37 mark of the second quarter. Snagging a Ken Seals pass with one hand, Thompson raced 18 yards for the touchdown that put the Vols ahead to stay at 14-10.

The edge grew to 28-10 at halftime on the strength of a 23-yard touchdown pass from Shrout to Jones and a 26-yard scoring connection from Shrout to Hyatt with just 44 seconds before intermission.

"I honestly think that helped with the momentum, because it's been a while since we've scored on defense," Thompson said. "It's definitely been an emphasis of the defensive staff, and I think it gave the offense a little burst right there."

A year after Eric Gray shredded the Commodores for 246 yards on 25 carries, the Vols inexplicably opened with three passes that netted 9 yards before punting the ball away. Their second drive began at Vandy's 42 and opened with Ty Chandler and Gray combining for five carries for 21 yards, which helped set up an 11-yard pass from Bailey to Jones to the Vandy 9 and a 6-yard touchdown from Bailey to tight end Princeton Fant.

The Commodores responded with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Seals finding Cam Johnson alone in the end zone from 18 yards out at the 1:50 mark of the first quarter. Seals connected with Chris Pierce for 34 yards on the possession, and Mitchell Pryor gained a yard on fourth-and-1 the play before the touchdown.

photo AP photo by Wade Payne / Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller became the first female football player to score in a Power Five game Saturday when she made an extra point against Tennessee in Nashville. She added another later in the game, which the Commodores lost 42-17 to fall to 0-9.

Fuller, who kicked off but never had a chance to score during the 41-0 loss at Missouri on Nov. 28, made the extra point for the 7-7 deadlock to become the first female to score in a Power Five football game.

"Everyone here has treated me like an athlete," Fuller said, "and that's the best I can hope for."

The first quarter ended with Maurer replacing Bailey for a play and racing 22 yards to the Vanderbilt 12. Gray gained 4 yards to open the second quarter, but Commodores outside linebacker Andre Mintze slammed into Bailey to cause a fumble the hosts recovered at their 26.

Seals found Amir Abdur-Rahman down the right sideline for a 46-yard gain to the Tennessee 28, which helped set up Pierson Cooke's 39-yard field goal that gave Vanderbilt its lone lead of the game at 10-7.

The Vols will try to celebrate another victory next Saturday in Knoxville, but it won't be easy with the arrival of No. 5 Texas A&M.

"Everybody was happy, and everybody was smiling," Tennessee linebacker Henry To'o To'o said. "It's been a while since we've seen a lot of guys smiling."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.