No one gave Vanderbilt a chance at no. 9 Auburn Saturday except for probably the Commodores themselves. But that's just fine with them.
As Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason remarked earlier this week, "we embrace the suck." And the 25-point underdogs certainly seemed to embrace that status Saturday.
Facing one of the hottest offenses in the country, the Dores defense flexed its muscles. Led by star linebacker Zach Cunningham, Vandy held the nation's third ranked rushing attack 32 yards below its season average and allowed just 23 points to an Auburn team that's averaged 48 points per game over the past four weeks.
Cunningham should be an All-American. Once again the junior linebacker, and Alabama native, looked like the best player on the field. He recorded nine tackles and a fumble recovery, but should've been credited with another turnover.
With Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-4) leading 13-10 in the third quarter, Cunningham appeared to strip Kamryn Pettway for a fumble. But upon review Pettway was ruled down and Auburn (7-2, 5-1) capitalized when Sean White hit Darius Slayton for the go-ahead touchdown just a few plays later.
The Commodores hung around deep into the fourth quarter when Cunningham made one of the plays of the season in college football. With one of the nation's best kickers, Daniel Carlson, lining up for a field goal to put the game away, Cunningham timed the snap perfectly, leaping over the line and into the backfield to block the attempt.
Kyle Shurmur then marched Vandy down the field and into position to potentially tie the game with a touchdown, but threw an interception that ended the rally.
Shurmur finished one of the better games of his career 24-36 for 221 yards against one of the SEC's top defenses, but once again the offense wouldn't let the Dores get over the hump.
It's clear Vanderbilt has made huge strides in year three under Mason. The defense is stout, special teams have been solid, and the offense is showing signs of life.
The Commodores need two wins in their final three games to become eligible for a bowl game for the first time under Mason, but will be considerable underdogs against both Ole Miss and Tennessee.
That's just fine with Mason and the Dores, though. They embrace the suck.
And even in a loss Saturday, proved they are much better than many people believe.
Tennessee 55, Tennessee Tech 0
Tennessee got exactly what it needed Saturday. After three consecutive demoralizing losses, the Volunteers got back on track with a 55-0 laugher over FCS neighbor Tennessee Tech.
Five days after leading rusher Jalen Hurd announced he would transfer away from Tennessee, the Vols (6-3, 2-3) went to the air early. Josh Dobbs finidng a wide open Josh Malone in the endzone for a 30-yard touchdown on the team's third offensive snap.
Dobbs finished with the most efficient stat line of his career, going 12-13 for 183 yards and three touchdowns in just under a half, bouncing back from a shaky performance in last week's loss at South Carolina.
Hurd's replacement John Kelly ran for 104 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries and the beat up Vols' defense completely dominated the Golden Eagles in the shutout.
The news got even better for Tennessee. With Florida losing 31-10 at Arkansas, the Vols are back in the SEC East race. If they can win out and the Gators lose to either South Carolina or LSU, Tennessee will win its first division title since 2007.
Texas-San Antonio 45, Middle Tennessee
After a pair of impressive road wins, Middle Tennessee suffered a potentially devastating 45-25 home loss Saturday to Texas-San Antonio.
The Blue Raiders (6-3, 3-2) allowed 270 yards rushing to the Roadrunners (5-4, 4-2) and lost star quarterback Brent Stockstill to injury.
Stockstill, a sophomore, added to his school record by tossing his 57th career TD pass to Dennis Andrews in the first quarter, but was slammed to the turf on a sack early in the second quarter. He left the game favoring his throwing shoulder and did not return.
His replacement, John Urzua, threw for 161 yards and a touchdown, but also tossed three interceptions as the Blue Raiders turned it over four times in all.
It would be a devastating blow if Stockstill is sideline for any length of time, especially after MTSU fell two games back of first place Western Kentucky Saturday.
Western Kentucky 49, Florida International 21
Western Kentucky took control of Conference USA's East Division race with a 49-21 blowout victory over Florida International (2-7, 1-5) Saturday in Bowling Green, improving to 5-1 in league play.
Anthony Wales ran for 111 yards and four touchdowns and Mike White added 274 yards passing and a 41-yard touchdown strike to Taywan Taylor as WKU jumped to a 35-7 halftime lead.
The Hilltoppers (7-3, 5-1) will be heavily favored to win their final two games to finish the regular season 9-3 and have an opportunity to win Conference USA again.
Tennessee State 41, Austin Peay 40
Ronald Butler's last ditch heave fell into the arms of an open Steven Newbold for the game-winning touchdown with :01 left as Tennessee State stunned Austin Peay 41-40 in Clarksville.
The Governors were seeking their first win in 25 games dating back to 2014, and took the lead on JaVaughn Craig's 40-yard touchdown to Jared Beard with 1:05 to play. But Butler led the Tigers back down the field on a six-play, 81 yard drive to win in the final minute.
Butler, who started the season as the Tigers' backup quarterback, finished the game 12-23 for 212 yards and four touchdowns and added 130 yards rushing and two more scores as the TSU (6-3, 2-3) avoided a major upset.
The Governors (0-9, 0-7) suffered another heartbreaking defeat, but continue to show progress under first-year head coach Will Healy. Craig finished the game with 466 total yards, including 322 and five TD's through the air.