The sixth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers learned at halftime that tailback Travis Henry would be fine after hurting his neck. Then they finished what Henry started.
Henry ran 19 times for 153 yards and scored a touchdown before leaving with a neck injury in the first half as Tennessee routed Vanderbilt 38-10 Saturday.
Coach Phillip Fulmer said Henry was diagnosed with a mild concussion and a pinched nerve after landing on his head and will be kept in the hospital for observation for two or three days.
Hearing the news at halftime calmed a group of worried teammates who had prayed while Henry was being loaded onto a back board with his neck strapped down for the trip to the hospital.
"We were happy that our teammate wasn't seriously hurt, and we wanted to go out and play the game for him," quarterback Tee Martin said.
Tennessee (9-2, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) improved its chances for an at-large bid to the Bowl Championship Series by scoring the first 17 points and never trailing against its instate rival. Fulmer, who would prefer a playoff, now gets to wait and see where the Vols will play next.
"I'm anxious to see where we get to go. I certainly think this team deserves an opportunity to play at the highest level they can play at," he said. "They've had their adversity, but they've had a lot more ups. We travel well, and I know we'll get a chance to do that."
Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-6) failed in its bid to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1982 and instead notched its 17th straight losing season.
"If there's a better team out there, I'd like to see it," Vandy coach Woody Widenhofer said. "Our defense battled for a while. Tennessee sets a great standard. This is where we want to be."
The Volunteers, who have won 17 straight games in the series, chewed up a defense that came in as the SE's third-stingiest, allowing 299.5 yards a game. Tennessee gained 476 yards, including a season-high 315 rushing, compared to 179 for Vandy.
Vandy had been allowing an average of 118.5 yards rushing a game, but Tennessee got 121 in the first quarter alone thanks to Henry who broke two soft tackles and ran 63 yards up the middle for his TD and a 10-0 lead. Freshman Onterrio Smith, filling in for Henry, added two fourth-quarter touchdowns and finished with 14 carries for 82 yards.
"Offensively, I think we have hit a stride and continue to be in that stride," Fulmer said. "We're making a lot more plays and a lot fewer mistakes."
Tennessee looked ready to blow the Commodores out as Martin hit Leonard Scott on a screen pass, and Scott ran in 33 yards for a TD and a 17-0 lead 30 seconds into the second quarter.
But Vanderbilt got back into the game with some help. Greg Zolman found Tavarus Hogans on a 44-yard pass down to the Tennessee 23. An unsportsmanlike penalty moved the ball to the 12, and Rodney Williams ran up the middle for a touchdown.
The Commodores pulled within 17-10 when Henry fumbled, and Ainsley Battles recovered, setting up a 36-yard field goal by John Markham.
That would be it for Vandy, who hasn't beaten Tennessee in Knoxville since 1975.
Henry broke loose on third-and-10 for a 48-yard gain to spark the Vols. The junior was dazed and hurt his neck seven plays later trying to vault over the goal line from the Vandy 3 but didn't lose the feeling or movement in his arms and legs.
Phillip Crosby capped the drive with a 1-yard run and a 24-10 lead at halftime.
The Vols' offense stalled in the third quarter as first Jamal Lewis, nursing his own injured shoulder and ankle, tried to replace Henry. He lost a fumble, and Smith came in and scored on runs of 7 and 51 yards in the final 11:07.
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