The Tennessee-Vanderbilt game was missing something on Saturday.
The game wasn’t missing points.
The Vols scored a touchdown on their first possession of the game and built a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter.
The game wasn’t missing a crowd; Neyland Stadium was mostly full of fans who had turned out to watch Tennessee’s final game of the season.
The game was lacking energy.
Fans filled UT’s campus before the game kicked off, but it felt more like a social gathering than the build up to an SEC game.
The game itself had the same feeling.
Until midway through the second quarter.
Vanderbilt had consecutive presnap penalties that caused their offensive plays to be blown dead.
That didn’t keep Tennessee’s defenders from knocking Vanderbilt quarterback AJ Swann to the ground.
And Vandy coach Clark Lea wasn’t having it.
Lea voiced his displeasure to the officials – and his players could pick up on their coach’s unhappiness.
The extra hits to Swann caused some pushing and shoving between Tennessee and Vanderbilt players.
That led to a “melee,” as the official described it over the PA system at Neyland Stadium.
A ton of Vanderbilt players and staff members ran onto the field.
It was a chaotic scene.
And it woke up the fans.
Neyland Stadium had a new energy thanks to the unexpected fracas.
Tennessee’s coaches couldn’t say it, but they were probably glad to see it cause Tennessee fans to come alive.
“It got pretty chippy there for a little bit,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said after the game. “Talked about it at halftime, playing smart football. We didn’t necessarily do that. We had more penalties than we want.”
Tennessee and Vanderbilt each had 10 penalties during the game.
Tennessee defensive linemen Dominique Bailey and Tyler Baron each drew unsportsmanlike penalties from their involvement in the commotion on the field.
There probably will be some tape of the incidents that neither team will want the SEC office to see.
Senior linebacker Aaron Beasley said after the game that coaches warned players about going too far and getting themselves ejected.
“The coaches for sure were yelling that at us,” Beasley said. “And then we realized, ‘Yeah, we can’t get kicked out.’ It is what it is. We weren’t trying to get kicked out. That’s for sure.”
Aside from the hits to Swann, who took a beating on Saturday, the game needed some extra juice.
Vandy isn’t good.
In fact, it’s an awful team by Power 5 standards.
But the reaction from Tennessee and Vanderbilt players might’ve shown that this game still means something to them.
“They’re another SEC school that’s in our state,” Beasley said. “We feel like we run this state so we definitely want to send that message out to them and put it that way for sure.”
Tennessee entered the Vanderbilt game coming off consecutive blowout losses to Missouri and Georgia.
Tennessee needed to show it was still dialed in and focused on closing out the season strong.
Would the Vols show enough fight against Vanderbilt?
Tennessee answered that question literally and figuratively on their way to an easy win.
That’s exactly what the game needed – and what Tennessee fans were waiting to see.