Hendon Hooker threw for two touchdowns before leaving with a left hand injury Saturday as Tennessee closed its regular season with a 45-21 win over Vanderbilt in Knoxville, Tenn.
Hooker completed 10 of 18 passes for 156 yards as the Volunteers (7-5, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) beat their in-state rivals for the third straight year. Tennessee now waits to see what bowl game it will get invited to, making coach Josh Heupel’s first season a big success.
Mike Wright hit on 16 of 31 passes for 198 yards with a touchdown and an interception for the Commodores (2-10, 0-8), which have now lost 21 consecutive SEC games, dating back to 2019.
Wright’s one big mistake put Vanderbilt down 7-0 less than three minutes into the game. He tossed an interception that Theo Jackson returned 55 yards for a touchdown.
After the Commodores controlled the ball for most of the first quarter, the Volunteers took over in the second quarter, cranking up their high-powered attack. Jabari Small’s 6-yard scoring run with 9:05 left in the half upped the margin to 14-0 and Hooker made it 21-0 less than five minutes later on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Cedric Tillman.
Chase McGrath connected on a 31-yard field goal in the last minute, but Wright got Vanderbilt on the board with a Hail Mary pass of 56 yards to Will Sheppard, drawing it within 24-7 at halftime.
The Commodores’ momentum lasted all of 33 seconds. On the second play of the third quarter, Hooker and Tillman hooked up for a 46-yard touchdown pass that increased the lead to 31-7.
Rocko Griffin scored on a 13-yard touchdown run for Vanderbilt at the 6:28 mark of the third, but Tennessee answered back 76 seconds later with Small’s second touchdown run, an 11-yarder.
Each team added a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Wright scored on a 4-yard run with 9:17 remaining for the Commodores and Jaylen Wright countered for the Volunteers with a 10-yard run at the 3:12 mark.
–Field Level Media