NASHVILLE, Tennessee — The quarterback issues that plagued Vanderbilt all season long cropped up again in the Commodores' season finale.
Patton Robinette, who started the opener, replaced Johnny McCrary after he was intercepted in the end zone. This time Robinette came up short in the final seconds of repeating his late-game heroics for a second straight year against Tennessee as the Commodores lost 24-17 in their season finale.
Now coach Derek Mason has promised to work on needed changes to a program that slumped dramatically in his first season after going to three bowls over the past three seasons. Vanderbilt went from 9-4 and ranked in the Top 25 to 3-8 without winning a single Southeastern Conference game for the first time since 2009 in Bobby Johnson's last season.
"I have an idea what I want, but what will happen is I need to take a couple of days and look back .," Mason said. "I'm not adding (specifics). As soon as I know, you'll know."
He has his Commodores' support, too.
"Whatever coach Mason decides to change, the direction he decides to go in, we are backing him a thousand percent," linebacker Stephen Weatherly said.
The Commodores (3-8, 0-8) started four different quarterbacks this season, and McCrary started the final five games. But he was 2 of 7 for 18 yards, and he didn't return after being intercepted in the end zone by Vols cornerback Justin Coleman. Robinette was intercepted twice himself.
But Robinette threw for 131 yards and a 36-yard touchdown in helping Vandy score 10 straight after Tennessee took a 10-0 lead after the first quarter. Robinette also ran for 37 more helping Vandy outgain the Vols 272-262 in total offense after Tennessee had an 83-12 edge after the first 15 minutes.
"I went into it with both those guys ready to go," Mason said. "Patton got things going better than Johnny in terms of how we bounced back and reacted to his surroundings. I thought Patton competed, and I'll look to see what his future holds."
Torren McGaster had two interceptions, and Vanderbilt also had three sacks. But McGaster had an interception on Tennessee's first offensive play wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty on linebacker Kyle Woestmann. The Commodores managed only a field goal off the turnovers.
"We needed those opportunities," Mason said. "You have to make sure you turn them into points, though. When you don't, it comes back to bite you."
Joshua Dobbs ran for two touchdowns and 91 yards as Tennessee snapped a two-game skid to their in-state rival that had been their longest in this series since 1925-26. Tennessee's win also gives the Southeastern Conference a league-record 12 bowl-eligible teams with the Vols (6-6, 3-5) joining the crowd in coach Butch Jones' second season.
"It rewards everyone for their resiliency, particularly our seniors," Jones said. "This will be their first bowl game."
Tennessee outgained Vanderbilt 83-12 in offense through the first quarter, then lost freshman running back Jalen Hurd to an upper-body injury.
Robinette got the Commodores to the Tennessee 49 with an 18-yard pass to Kris Kentera on the final drive. But he was incomplete on his final three passes, the last on fourth-and-10 when he couldn't connect with a wide-open Trey Wilkins. Tennessee kneeled down to run out the final seconds for the win and started celebrating.
Dobbs scored just before halftime to cap a 94-yard drive giving Tennessee a 17-10 halftime lead, and he added an 8-yard TD with 3:19 left in the third quarter for a 24-10 lead.
Vanderbilt pulled within 24-17 when Ralph Webb bounced off two Tennessee defenders on his way to a 3-yard TD late in the third, then McGaster picked off his second pass of the game giving the Commodores the ball at the Tennessee 47 within the first minute of the fourth quarter.
Robinette was intercepted two plays later by Tennessee safety Brian Randolph, and the Commodores didn't get back to midfield until inside the final minute.
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