Vanderbilt’s winning drive was kept alive when after Tennessee’s fourth-and-inches stop of quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels in the final minute was overturned on replay, giving Vanderbilt a first down at the Tennessee 33.
After a 25-yard completion from Carta-Samuels to Jordan Matthews gave Vanderbilt first-and-goal, Carta-Samuels was replaced by the more mobile Robinette on second-and-goal from the 5. Robinette faked a jump pass and ran around the right end for the touchdown.
Vanderbilt (7-4, 4-4 SEC) overcame four turnovers to beat Tennessee for the second straight year, giving the Commodores consecutive victories over their in-state rivals for the first time since winning six straight over the Volunteers from 1920-26. The Vols (4-7, 1-6) fell out of bowl contention and clinched their fourth straight losing season, something that hasn’t happened at Tennessee since 1902-06.
The Commodores celebrated wildly after Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs’ desperation pass from the Vanderbilt 48 fell incomplete on the game’s final play. As the Vols headed into the locker room, the Commodores raced to a corner of Neyland Stadium that featured the majority of Vanderbilt’s fans.
Matthews caught 13 passes for 133 yards while setting an SEC record for career receptions. His 13-catch performance Saturday gave him 246 career receptions to break the mark previously held by Earl Bennett, who caught 236 passes for Vanderbilt from 2005-07. Matthews also owns the SEC record for career yards receiving (3,491).
Tennessee had capitalized on Vanderbilt’s mistakes to take a 10-7 lead on Michael Palardy’s 32-yard field goal early in the third quarter and appeared on the verge of putting the game away early in the fourth quarter, but a block in the back by receiver Alton “Pig” Howard nullified Dobbs’ 13-yard touchdown run. The Vols ended up wasting the trip to the red zone when they faked a 39-yard field-goal attempt and Palardy’s pass was picked off by Paris Head.
The Vols found themselves trying to hang on to their narrow lead the rest of the night.
Vanderbilt started a fourth-quarter drive on the Tennessee 29 after a 27-yard punt by Palardy, but the Commodores blew the chance when Carey Spear was short on a 42-yard field-goal attempt with 7:15 remaining. But the next time the Commodores got the ball, they drove 92 yards in 12 plays for the winning touchdown.
The Commodores won despite making uncharacteristic errors and losing their entire starting secondary.
Vanderbilt entered the night having forced 16 turnovers in its last four games, but the Commodores were the ones giving the ball away Saturday. After losing just two fumbles in their first 10 games of the season, the Commodores fumbled it away three times against Tennessee, with two of them coming in the red zone. Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler was ejected for a targeting penalty in the third quarter, while defensive backs Andre Hal, Javon Marshall and Steven Clarke all went down with injuries.
The Commodores still held Tennessee to 53 yards passing while forcing three interceptions. Dobbs went 11 of 19 for 53 yards and was picked off twice.
Rajion Neal led Tennessee’s offense by rushing for 95 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.