Few things are more deflating for a passionate fan base than a season opening home loss to a lowly regarded non conference opponent – especially when expectations are on the ascend. This defined Tennessee’s forgettable start to 2019 as they dropped a decision to Georgia State. Such a loss can drape a dark fog over the remainder of the season, leaving a gloomy residue on every pregame tailgate and every playing of the fight song. But, the Volunteers didn’t allow their eventual 1-4 start to dictate the remainder of the schedule. We were fortunate to stroll into Knoxville with Tennessee on a four game win streak and the orange and white faithful infused with a resurgent spirit.
Tennessee’s in state rival, Vanderbilt, sauntered into town with only three wins on the season, but also riding a three game winning streak against the Vols. Senior day would be an excellent opportunity for revenge on the Commodores as the veteran players ran through the band-formed “T” one last time. However, Tennessee’s rage against Vandy would have to wait as lighting zigzagged across the sky forcing Neyland Stadium to empty. After a short delay, Vol fans filled the stadium back up with festivity as they hoped for a better finish to the season than it started.
A 56-yard TD run followed by a 94-yard TD run, both by RB Eric Gray, put to rest any concerns of that Tennessee would lose their late season momentum. Vanderbilt’s best defense on Eric Gray was the 39 minute lightning delay that interrupted the fourth quarter. When the teams returned from that postponement, the game was firmly in Tennessee’s control. Still, there was time for a rivalry brawl to ignite on the sidelines – aggression manifested from a season of disappointment for Vanderbilt.
The Vols finished with a winning record for the first time in three years and transformed a somber September into a noteworthy November that would be capped off with a bowl game. As Tennessee looks to next season, I’m sure they won’t take for granted their home opener with easily overlookable Charlotte.