What we learned as Harrison Bailey, J.T. Shrout lead Tennessee football past Vanderbilt
NASHVILLE – Tennessee found the antidote to its losing streak: a depleted and winless Vanderbilt.
The Vols navigated past a sluggish start to thump the Commodores 42-17 on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium, ending their six-game losing streak.
The win provides an important moment of relief for embattled third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt as he approaches Wednesday’s early signing day.
Tennessee (3-6) rotated three quarterbacks.
Vanderbilt (0-9) had just 49 scholarship players available because of COVID-19 infections, contact tracing, opt outs, transfers and injuries.
Vanderbilt's Sarah Fuller went 2 for 2 on extra points, becoming the first woman to score in an SEC football game.
Here are five things we learned.
Harrison Bailey remains accurate
Harrison Bailey rarely missed his mark in his second straight start. The freshman doesn't have elite arm strength, but he finished 14-of-18 for 207 yards and two touchdowns.
Bailey fumbled on a strange play in the second quarter. Vanderbilt defensive lineman Andre Mintze knocked the ball loose as Bailey tried to throw a pass. The ball traveled forward and fell to the ground. Several players did not immediately go for the ball, thinking it was an incompletion.
Officials never whistled the play dead, and Vanderbilt’s Cameron Tidd recovered the live ball.
J.T. Shrout replaced Bailey for the rest of the second quarter before Bailey re-entered after halftime. Along with Bailey and Shrout, Brian Maurer also took a snap on a 22-yard run.
J.T. Shrout makes his case
Shrout has an impressive arm, but he’s received few opportunities throughout his Tennessee career after signing as a three-star recruit in Pruitt’s first signing class.
Shrout sparked Tennessee's second-quarter surge. He showed good zip, including a 26-yard touchdown on a slant to Jalin Hyatt, who bolted away from defenders and into the end zone. Shrout also completed a 23-yard touchdown to Velus Jones. He doubled his career touchdown total from two to four.
He finished 6-of-13 for 90 yards with a fourth-quarter interception on an ill-advised pass while under pressure. That comes after he completed 12 of 14 passes for 121 yards in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss to Florida.
Sarah Fuller seizes the moment
Fuller pumped her right fist and slapped hands with holder Harrison Smith after splitting the uprights with her extra point with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Fuller received a round of congratulatory helmet slaps from her teammates after returning to the sideline.
Fuller became the first woman to play in an SEC game on Nov. 28 against Missouri when she kicked off to open the second half. Then-Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason added her to the football roster after COVID-19-related quarantine left the Commodores without any place kickers for that game.
Fuller played goalkeeper for Vanderbilt’s soccer team, and less than a week before making her football debut against Missouri she made three saves in Vanderbilt’s 3-1 win over Arkansas in the championship of the SEC Soccer Tournament.
Vanderbilt had two walk-on kickers available against Tennessee, and Pierson Cooke handled kickoffs and field-goal attempts.
Bryce Thompson turns the momentum
Bryce Thompson made the play of the game when Tennessee’s junior cornerback used his left hand to pluck from the air an underthrown pass from Ken Seals. He returned his one-handed interception 18 yards for a touchdown to give Tennessee a 14-10 lead midway through the second quarter.
It marked Tennessee’s first defensive touchdown since recovering a fumble in the end zone against Georgia on Oct. 10.
Thompson’s interception sparked a string of three Vols touchdowns in less than eight minutes.
Paxton Brooks has a good arm
Jimmy Holiday dropped what should have been a completion from Paxton Brooks on a fake punt last week against Florida. The Vols ran a fake punt again Saturday, and Brooks continued to show he can sling the ball. He put a pass on the money to linebacker Henry To’o To’o for a 22-yard gain.
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Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.