Kyle Shurmur threw for a career-high 416 yards, and Vanderbilt scored the final 21 points in an upset of No. 24 Tennessee 45-34 Saturday night that erased any doubts the Commodores belong in a bowl.
The Commodores (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) earned a bowl berth for the first time since 2013 thanks to their Academic Progress Rate (APR) score before kickoff. Then they went out and turned in the best offensive performance yet in picking up their sixth win this year and improving coach Derek Mason's best record in his third season.
"That's the way we wanted it," Mason said. "We wanted a victory. At the end of the day, we didn't want to sneak in the back door. We wanted to kick in the door and walk through the front door."
Vanderbilt scored its most points against an SEC opponent since scoring 49 against Mississippi State on Sept. 25, 1971. The Commodores outgained Tennessee 608-516 in beating the Vols for the third time in five seasons.
Tennessee (8-4, 4-4) led 31-24 at halftime after taking a 21-7 lead to open the game. Then the Commodores held the Vols to a field goal in the second half with Aaron Medley banging a 37-yard field goal off the right upright with 6:46 left.
Khari Blasingame scored on a 12-yard TD run late in the third quarter, then Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham hit and stripped Joshua Dobbs of the ball at the end of the third quarter, forcing Tennessee's second turnover of the game. That set up a 3-yard TD run by Darrius Sims with 12:15 left that gave Vanderbilt its first lead of the game at 38-34.
Alvin Kamara scored three touchdowns for Tennessee within the first 17 minutes as the Vols jumped out to a 21-7 lead. Dobbs completed his first 11 passes and finished with 31 of 34 for 340 yards passing and two TDs.
The Volunteers had been gashed on the ground badly, giving up more than 400 yards in each of the past two games. This time, Shurmur picked them apart with the fifth best passing performance in Vanderbilt history to help the Commodores match Tennessee's high-powered offense.
Ralph Webb, who became Vandy's all-time leading scorer in the second quarter , finished off the scoring with a 28-yard TD run with 4:06 left. Webb finished with 116 yards rushing.
Tennessee: The Vols got the fast start they had missed so often this season only to struggle in the second half. They came into this game with a chance at a Sugar Bowl berth needing Auburn to lose to Alabama in the Iron Bowl. That happened. Before they could wait to see if Florida lost to Florida State, the Vols couldn't help themselves by beating Vanderbilt. That leaves them waiting to see just which bowl they will be playing.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores already had a road win at Georgia this season, but this easily counts as Mason's biggest win yet to quiet questions about their program as they prepare to go bowling.
"Man, I'm so excited for these seniors," he said. "You know what, they did this. We did this. People said we couldn't get it done."
The Volunteers had just moved back into the Top 25 after three straight wins. This likely drops them right back out.
Vanderbilt: Bowl-bound, and the Commodores had a representative from the Independence Bowl watching their upset of the Vols.