KNOXVILLE – Vanderbilt lost to Tennessee on Saturday, but the Commodores aren’t convinced the better team won.
A 49-yard field goal attempt by VU kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt with 0:33 remaining drifted wide left, helping the Vols to a 25-24 victory before 105,077 fans at Neyland Stadium.
UT rallied from a 24-9 third-quarter deficit to improve to 8-3 overall and 5-2 in Southeastern Conference play. If the Vols beat Kentucky next week, they will win the SEC Eastern Division title and play in the league championship game Dec. 1.
Vanderbilt fell to 5-6 and 2-6 and must defeat Wake Forest next week to secure bowl eligibility for the first time since 1982.
Even in the aftermath of a bitter defeat, some Commodores said the game could have ended differently.
“We’re better than Tennessee,” VU defensive tackle Gabe Hall said. “We smacked them in the mouth. You can watch the tape. They know it. They know they escaped.”
“I guess the better team won today, but if we played again tomorrow I think it would be a different outcome,” added offensive tackle Chris Williams.
After building a 15-point lead, Vanderbilt’s offense was stifled, gaining only 16 yards of total offense in the second half. The Commodores punted the ball away after three plays on its first three series of the fourth quarter.
With UT’s defense in control late in the game, Vols quarterback Erik Ainge completed 29 of 43 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns.
Tennessee kicker Daniel Lincoln booted a 33-yard field goal with 3:04 remaining, pushing the Vols ahead 25-24.
Vanderbilt rallied back when D.J. Moore returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards the UT 42-yard line with 2:34 left.
After moving to the Tennessee 31, the Commodores turned to Hahnfeldt. But the Nashville native, who missed two field goals and a point-after attempt last week against Kentucky, missed his seventh field-goal try of the season.
“In the SEC, it always comes down to one or two things,” Hall said. “You have to find a way to get those one or two things done. There’s no excuse. Bottom line, the only thing that can be accepted is winning.”
Arian Foster rushed for 106 yards, while Lucas Taylor caught nine passes for 90 yards and a touchdown to lead the UT offense.
VU’s Cassen Jackson-Garrison — a Knoxville native — rushed for 83 yards, while Mackenzi Adams passed for 139 yards and a career-high three touchdowns.
The Vols out-gained the Commodores in total yards, 350-270.
"We took it to them most of the day," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. "When you come that close to winning and fall short, it's hard on everybody."
GOLD NUGGETS: Vanderbilt tight end Brad Allen caught his first career touchdown pass Saturday. ...VU wide receiver Earl Bennett left the game in the second quarter after taking a hard fall to the ground and didn't return. He appeared to have injured his lower back. ...Offensive guard Josh Eames also left the game in the second quarter with a back injury and didn't return. …Jackson-Garrison moved into ninth place on Vanderbilt’s all-time rushing list Saturday with 1,802.