Hardesty runs over Vandy for 171, TD as Tennessee eyes bowl bid

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin has had to reach so far down his depth chart because of injuries that even he wasn't sure who was on the field.

The Volunteers beat in-state rival Vanderbilt 31-16 on Saturday night playing with a third-string middle linebacker, a walk-on outside linebacker and walk-on placekicker Devin Mathis.

"That's the kicker, right?" Kiffin quipped when asked about Mathis.

After missing the postseason last year, the battered Volunteers (6-5, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) became bowl eligible with the victory. Tennessee hasn't missed out on a bowl game in consecutive seasons since 1977-78.

The Commodores (2-10, 0-8) finished without a conference win for the first time since 2002.

Tennessee entered halftime with the momentum, but Vanderbilt had plenty of chances to take advantage of a Vols defense fielding inexperience players and guys like senior linebacker Rico McCoy, determined to play despite having an injured knee.

"We just couldn't take advantage of some opportunities," Vandy coach Bobby Johnson said. "It's a tough way to end the season."

The Commodores had a chance to tie the game before halftime but stalled on fourth-and-2 at the Tennessee 38 with 51 seconds left. Instead, Tennessee drove for a quick touchdown to go up 24-10.

Vandy's Steven Stone was called for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty, and Jonathan Crompton was perfect on four pass attempts. His 16-yard TD pass to Luke Stocker capped the 30-second drive.

"That was a big momentum shift," Vanderbilt linebacker Chris Marve said. "That just put us down even further, so we had to come out for the second half with an ever larger deficit."

Crompton finished 20-for-34 for 221 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Montario Hardesty ran for a career-high 171 yards and a touchdown.

The Vols struggled to move the ball in the second half, and Vanderbilt had a shot to pull within four points with about 6 minutes left.

On third-and-goal at the 3, MacKenzi Adams attempted a pass for John Cole in the end zone. The ball bounced off Cole and into the hands of Tennessee's Dennis Rogan, but a pass interference call on Rogan kept the Commodores' drive alive.

With a fresh set of downs, Vanderbilt couldn't move the ball, and Adams took a sack for a loss of 9 yards. Ryan Fowler kicked a 32-yard field goal to make the score 24-16 with 2:54 left, and the Commodores couldn't pull any closer.

Adams was 19-of-35 for 174 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Vandy's Warren Norman had 73 yards rushing and 61 yards on kickoff returns. Norman's 1,923 all-purpose yards broke Herschel Walker's SEC freshman record of 1,805. He also became the Commodores' single-season leader for all-purpose yards.

"It doesn't mean too much to me because I'm not about breaking records," Norman said. "It's an honor though, just being mentioned with Herschel Walker. That's pretty cool."

Crompton's third-quarter interception ended a streak of 142 straight pass attempts without one, one shy of Casey Clausen's school record of 143.

After struggling to find consistency on field goals with an injured Daniel Lincoln and punter Chad Cunningham, Tennessee called on Mathis for the first time this week. Mathis hit a 25-yard field goal and connected on three extra point attempts.

Mathis was a walk-on last season and nearly earned a starting job as Lincoln struggled. He spent the spring semester studying in Mexico and did not participate in the Vols' fall camp.

Tennessee finished its senior day in style when senior defensive tackle Wes Brown, who's played with injured knees for the past two seasons, intercepted Adams' pass and ran 25 yards for a touchdown with 3 seconds left, carrying Norman on his back for the last 5. His teammates piled on top of him in the end zone.

"Everybody was saying, 'That might have been the ugliest thing I've ever seen,'" Brown said. "I felt [Norman] hopping on my back, but I didn't want to be denied. I wanted to score, and I couldn't ask for a better ending."

College Football News