NASHVILLE — Prentiss Waggner grabbed his fourth pass interception this season for the Tennessee football Volunteers at Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
But for the first time, the sophomore cornerback didn’t score on the pickoff.
Waggner, who also has two long fumble returns this season, left his feet and snared a pass from Commodores quarterback Larry Smith at the Vanderbilt 30-yard line with 5:52 left in the second quarter.
The Vols couldn’t capitalize, though, as freshman quarterback Tyler Bray was intercepted three plays by Commodores junior corner Casey Hayward near the goal line.
Vandy drove down the field after Bray’s interception and pulled within 14-3 on sophomore Ryan Fowler’s 31-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
Bray’s interception was just his second this season since taking the first-team position from junior Matt Simms. Bray had thrown 12 touchdowns in league play at that point, and he still finished the first half 12-of-16 for 173 yards and two scores.
Vols junior cornerback Anthony Anderson, a former star at Knoxville’s Austin-East High School, went deep to return Vanderbilt’s first punt of the game. But what could have been the first punt return of his career sailed over his head and bounced into the end zone, giving UT the ball at the Commodores 20.
Anderson’s second punt-return opportunity also sailed over his head, bouncing into the end zone for a touchback. His third opportunity was his first catch, but not in midair. He took the ball off one bounce in traffic and returned it 1 yard to the Vanderbilt 20.
Anderson then muffed a punt early in the third quarter, and Vandy recovered at the UT 20. It was UT’s seventh lost punt of the season.
The Vols have used five punt returners this season, but they haven’t found a player who can consistently catch the ball. UT didn’t use a returner for Ole Miss’s final punt last week after sophomore safety Janzen Jackson muffed two earlier in the game.
Sophomore tailback David Oku, who was supposed to be a big part of UT’s offense all season, emerged Saturday night for his first big play since a season-opening blowout win over UT-Martin.
Bray faked an end-around and tossed to a wide-open Oku for a 34-yard gain to the Vanderbilt 15-yard line. The quarterback threw a touchdown pass to freshman receiver Justin Hunter on the next play, and senior Daniel Lincoln’s extra point gave UT a 7-0 lead with 4:02 left in the first quarter.
Oku, who has been the No. 3 tailback behind junior Tauren Poole and true freshman Rajion Neal, also took a pitch from Bray 5 yards later in the opening period. He had gained 9 yards on two runs to open the second quarter but was caught and thrown for a loss on third-and-1.
Oku had 15 yards on five carries in the first half. Poole led the Vols with 41 yards on 10 carries. Vanderbilt’s Kennard Reeves led all rushers at halftime with 44 yards on 11 carries.
This and that
UT redshirt freshman Eric Gordon started at cornerback despite suffering two concussions in the past three weeks, including one in last week’s blowout win over Ole Miss in Neyland Stadium. Sophomore wide receiver Zach Rogers, who also got a concussion against Ole Miss, did not dress for the game. Jackson started despite suffering an ankle injury against Ole Miss.
UT freshman safety Dontavis Sapp was penalized 15 yards for a late hit after a Vanderbilt kickoff return midway through the first quarter. The Commodores started that drive in Vols territory but didn’t score.
Vanderbilt had 34 yards of total offense on 11 plays in the first quarter. The Vols had 156 yards at that point. UT outgained the Commodores 242-125 in the first half, and 68 of Vandy’s yards came on its field-goal drive to end the second quarter.
True freshman wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, whose role in the offense gradually has increased late in the season, had 32 on two first-half catches, including a 27-yarder that might have been a touchdown if Bray had hit him in stride. Rogers still adjusted nicely to the ball and caught it, though.
Senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz, senior guard Jarrod Shaw and senior defensive back Tyler Wolf — one of the team’s best special-teams players — were UT’s game captains Saturday night. The Vols lost the coin toss for the ninth time in 11 games this season.
Representatives from the Music City Bowl and Liberty Bowl attended Saturday night’s game. Those two bowls, especially the Music City, recently have been linked to UT, assuming the Vols end the regular season with a win over Kentucky.
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesruckerCTFP or Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.
Vols Win 24-10 At VandyTennessee wide receiver Denarius Moore (6) beats Vanderbilt linebacker Archibald Barnes to the end zone for a second-quarter touchdown. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat