On Nov. 20, 2004, the future SEC East champion Tennessee Volunteers were happy to escape Nashville, Tenn. with a win over the Vanderbilt Commodores and quarterback Jay Cutler. Tennessee came into the game heavily favored and ranked No. 16 in the nation. Vanderbilt had just one Southeastern Conference win in seven chances, but played up to Tennessee’s standards on this day.
In the first series of the game, Cutler fumbled the ball on a third-and-11 play, which gave the Volunteers the ball at the Vanderbilt 14-yard line. Tennessee scored on its second play from scrimmage and had an early 7-0 lead after two minutes of play.
Vanderbilt ran six plays on its next series before the Commodores punted the ball away to Tennessee. The Vols took over at their 42-yard line and scored nine plays later on an 11-yard touchdown run by Cedric Houston, his second of the game.
Vanderbilt was down, but not out.
The Commodores finally put points on the board on their next possession. Jay Cutler went 5-for-6 and threw for 59 yards, finishing the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Marlon White. Unfortunately for the Commodores they missed the extra-point.
Tennessee took over with just over two minutes remaining in the first quarter and continued to shred the Commodore defense. Rick Clausen threw for 43 yards and Gerald Riggs busted a 31-yard run to set up a Houston 5-yard touchdown run. Tennessee had a 21-6 lead with 12:25 to play in the first half.
The Volunteer defense looked for redemption following the Commodores score and got it when Jay Cutler was sacked and fumbled on the Vanderbilt 18-yard line. Tennessee recovered and scored three plays later on a Clausen to Jayson Swain 20-yard touchdown strike that put Tennessee up 28-6.
Cutler had already given the ball up twice and sought atonement against the Tennessee defense. On Vanderbilt’s first play following the Swain touchdown Cutler threw the ball to Brandon Smith for an 80-yard, catch-and-run touchdown. Vanderbilt attempted the two-point conversion, and converted on a pass from Cutler to White to bring the score to 28-14.
When Tennessee took the ball for their fifth series, they sought a fifth first-half score. Vanderbilt’s defense stood strong and allowed Tennessee just 17 yards before cornerback Dominique Morris picked off Clausen at Vanderbilt's 23-yard line.
Vanderbilt took over at its own 23-yard line and followed a rushing attack led by Jeff Jennings, who ran for 20 yards to score on its second-straight possession, cutting the lead to 28-20. Patrick Johnson missed his second extra point attempt of the half leaving the Commodores down eight points.
Both defenses stood strong and forced punts on the next drives, and the teams went into halftime with Vanderbilt down, but thinking upset.
Tennessee received the ball to begin the third quarter and started ripping through the Vandy defense as easily as it did in the first quarter. But the drive stalled and the Volunteers could not get past the Commodore 17-yard line. James Wilhoit kicked a 31-yard field goal to increase Tennessee’s lead to 11
The Vanderbilt offense had a hard time starting up and it took a disastrous turn on a third-and-12 play from the Tennessee 46-yard line when Jay Cutler threw an interception, his third turnover on the day. Tennessee did not waste the opportunity given by Cutler, scoring on a five-yard pass from Clausen to Swain to give Tennessee an 18-point advantage. Again, it seemed that the Volunteers were pulling away from a struggling Vanderbilt team.
Cutler sparked the Vanderbilt offense and pushed the Commodores down the field on the next drive. He threw for 56 yards and had a 13-yard scramble on the drive. Jennings scored his second touchdown of the day on a 10-yard rush. Vanderbilt attempted another two-point conversion, but was unsuccessful and trailed Tennessee 38-26 with 14:35 remaining in the game.
Tennessee, again, began to march down the field, but Vanderbilt forced a turnover of its own. Linebacker Kevin Joyce intercepted a ball thrown by Clausen on the Vanderbilt 12, and returned it to the Vanderbilt 20.
The Commodore offense stalled and had to punt the ball after a quick three-and-out. Still excited from the turnover, Vanderbilt limited the Vols steady offense to just 18 yards on their next drive and got them to punt. Dustin Colquitt pinned Cutler down at the Vanderbilt 13.
On the first play of the series, Cutler and White hooked up for a 62-yard catch-and-run, which put the Commodores just outside the red zone. Cutler threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Dustin Dunning six plays later, Cutler’s third touchdown of the day. With just 4:25 to play, Vanderbilt had closed to within five points of the Volunteers.
Vanderbilt, riding on momentum, again halted the Tennessee offense and forced them to punt. The Commodores took over at their own 20-yard line with 2:16 remaining.
Everyone knew that the Commodores could score as they had put 33 points on the board already and were only trailing by five. On the first snap, Cutler threw his second interception, and committed his fourth turnover, giving Tennessee the ball at the Vanderbilt 22. Tennessee ran out the clock and won 38-33.
This game gave Tennessee the SEC East Championship and pushed the Volunteers into a match-up against Auburn at the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship. Tennessee lost 38-28, but beat No. 22 Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, 38-7.
Jay Cutler threw for 314 yards, but his four turnovers cost his team a chance at a big upset. In 2005, Cutler would be drafted to the Denver Broncos in the first round with the 11th-overall pick of the draft.