KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Saturday’s season finale in Neyland Stadium for Vanderbilt ended with defeat and sent the Commodores into the offseason on a sour note.
But sixth-year Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason has a lot of reasons to be optimistic, he said, following a 28-10 loss to Tennessee.
“This football team will continue to grow up,” Mason said. “We’ll continue to look at the roster as we get back and go recruit and hit the offseason like the way we should to improve this roster to make it better. Then we’ll figure out exactly what’s next for us. I think this team will continue to get better, will continue to push and figure out exactly what we need to do.
“I just talked to a group of seniors in that locker room and told them thank you for taking the journey. I talked to some underclassmen in there and said make sure you go around to these seniors and grab the information there that needs to be grabbed because there’s some wisdom there. So grab it, make sure that you hold on to it, build on it and let’s get better.”
Vandy had won three straight and 5 of 7 against its in-state rival going into Saturday. The Volunteers (7-5, 5-3 SEC) ended hopes of a fourth straight Vanderbilt win thanks to 21 unanswered points in the first half and a late score in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee also ran for 297 yards in its first win over the Commodores (3-9, 1-7 SEC) since 2015. Mason’s team fought back to get within 21-10 in the final period – but ran out gas.
“The bottom line is there was enough plays out there for us to have an opportunity to stay in this game, be in this ballgame, and we didn’t capitalize,” Mason said. “When you don’t capitalize, that’s the way the game goes. They made plays tonight. Hat’s off to them – they got it done.”
Now Mason and Vanderbilt will look to 2020. It loses three of its best playmakers offensively as well as quarterback Riley Neal.
On defense the Commodores return most – if not all – of its starters. They’ll use those pieces to try to reverse the fortunes of a tough 2019 season that included a three-game losing streak at one point.
“There were points where we were on track, there were points where he were off track, there were points where we were trying to find what our track would be,” Vanderbilt senior wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb said. “I think everybody had different expectations about what their role was going to be, what production was going to be like and knowing what our team is going to look like. Sometimes that expectation didn’t meet reality. But then there were other times, like you see us in the Missouri game, we go out and compete and win a game that no one thinks we’re going to win.
“I think just forward for this program there are building blocks. There is lessons all over the place where guys can learn and say we’ll be better.”
Lipscomb, seniors Ke’Shawn Vaughn (a running back), tight end Jared Pinkney, wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley, offensive lineman Saige Young, linebacker Caleb Peart, kicker Ryley Guay and cornerback Cam Watkins all played their final games for Vanderbilt on Saturday. Many of those student-athletes were a part of two bowl games and the three victories over the Volunteers.
It now becomes incumbent upon the returning team to get Vandy back to its winning ways in order to return to the postseason – and maybe even start a win winning streak against the team to the east.
“It’s a game we wanted to win. I think everybody knows that,” Lipscomb said. “We wanted to go 4-0 (against Tennessee) and it didn’t happen.
“I think looking back on these years that I’ve been here, we’ve played on some good teams and we’ve managed to come into this game and fight. We fought this year, it just didn’t go the way we wanted it to. I’m proud of my guys. I’m thankful for them and thankful for this journey. Anchor down, man.”
• There was a 28-minute delay at the game’s outset due to inclement weather and a 39-minute delay in the fourth quarter.
• Pinkney finished his Vanderbilt career with 14 career receiving touchdowns (tied for eighth all-time), 115 career receptions and 1,560 career receiving yards.
• Vaughn did not play in the second half Saturday due to injury. He finished game with 13 yards on six carries.
• In 24 career games with Vanderbilt, Vaughn finished with 2,272 rushing yards – the fifth-most in Vandy history.
• Vaughn finished third on the program’s career rushing touchdowns all-time list with 21. Stacy (30) is second and Webb (32) is first.
• Lipscomb finished his Vanderbilt career with 193 career receptions (fourth all-time) and 22 career receiving touchdowns (second all-time behind Jordan Matthews’ 24).
• Vanderbilt had won nine straight games against programs from the state of Tennessee before Saturday’s loss.
• Attendance on Saturday was announced as 87,367.