NASHVILLE — Tennessee (5-6, 2-5 SEC) played a sloppy, mistake-filled game Saturday against Vanderbilt (2-9, 1-7 SEC) but found a way to leave Nashville with a three-game winning streak and the possibility of a bowl game still alive.

The Volunteers looked as if they would pick up where they left off each of the last two weeks in the first half but had to fight off a valiant Commodore effort to win 24-10 in front of a crowd of 37,017.

"We made enough mistakes today to last us for a season,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “I knew this was going to be a tough game. Give Vanderbilt a lot of credit: They brought it for 60 minutes, and we really struggled, had a lot of opportunities to put the game away, and we didn’t capitalize.”

UT’s offense, which scored 102 points against Memphis and Ole Miss in its last two games, failed to find an identity against Vanderbilt. True freshman quarterback Tyler Bray threw two touchdown passes in the first half to give the Vols a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter but was out of sync the rest of the game.

“Tyler struggled with decision-making, and you have to give Vanderbilt a lot of credit for that,” Dooley said. “I knew it’d be a tough game for Tyler.”

Bray finished 16-of-27 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His first interception came with the Vols deep in Commodore territory and changed the momentum of the entire game.

Instead of going up by three scores, the interception allowed Vanderbilt to put together a 17-play drive, which resulted in a field goal as the first-half clock expired.   

Neither team scored in the third quarter, but Vols’ kicker Daniel Lincoln extended the UT lead back to 14 with a 28-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

After trading punts, the Commodores drove to the UT 13-yard line before sophomore free safety Janzen Jackson intercepted a Jared Funk pass at the goal line. The interception kept the Vols up by two touchdowns and proved to be a difference in the game.

“It was big,” Jackson said. “We need a turnover or a stop right there in the red zone, because we knew that they would have another chance to get the ball if they scored. That was big for us.”  

The Commodores got into the end zone for the first time in the game with 2:33 remaining when Funk connected with wide receiver Jordan Matthews for a 16-yard touchdown pass to bring Vanderbilt within a touchdown at 17-10.

After recovering an onside kick, the Vols faced a fourth-and-2 from the Commodore 28-yard line. Junior running back Tauren Poole took the handoff and raced through a hole on the left side of the offensive line to the end zone to help preserve the UT victory.

“My hat’s off to Vanderbilt, because they played extremely hard,” Poole said. “They out-efforted us tonight. We give it all to them because they played hard, and we have to play better to beat Kentucky.”

Poole finished the game with 99 yards on the ground, but the running game once again had a hard time getting yards consistently.

“We’re not good at running the ball, and that’s why we struggled,” Dooley said. “We played really well for being not good at running the ball. We stink at running the ball.”

The Vols’ defense did play well, however. The 10 points UT gave up were the fewest it had allowed to an FBS team this season.

“Give the team a lot of credit, because with all the mistakes we made, we held them to 10 points, which is a great effort by the defense,” Dooley said. “We won the game, we found a way to win, and that’s what matters.”

Senior defensive end Gerald Williams had his best performance as a Vol. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Williams recorded eight tackles — a career-high — and notched a sack and a blocked field goal, which he recovered.

His most notable play, however, didn’t appear in the box score. Williams intercepted a Larry Smith pass and returned it 71 yards for a touchdown, but the play was called back because of a personal foul on junior defensive tackle Malik Jackson.

“He was active,” Dooley said. “Blocked a field goal, and he had the pick-six that didn’t count. That’s unfortunate, you know, guys dream about (those).”

The win puts the Vols in position to end the season on a four-game winning streak and become bowl eligible. UT’s regular season finale will be Saturday against Kentucky, who the Vols have beaten 25 times in a row — the longest such win streak in the country.

“We’ve got a one-game season,” Dooley said. “We lose, we go home. We win, we’ve got a heck of an opportunity to go to the postseason.”