The Scarlet Knights (1-4), who lost to Division I-AA Villanova and Buffalo earlier this season, were a six-touchdown underdog but held a shocking 14-7 halftime lead. And it could have been more.
With 14 seconds remaining in the first half, Rutgers quarterback Ryan Cubit scrambled for three yards to the Tennessee one-yard line. But the Scarlet Knights were out of timeouts and Cubit could not spike the ball before time expired.
Tennessee (3-1), hoping to put things together after last week's disappointing 30-13 loss to Florida, player better in the second half, but the performance against one of the worst teams in Division I-A likely will not please coach Phillip Fulmer.
After having only one pass thrown to him in the first half, Washington took over in the second. He had receptions of 52 and 48 yards, setting up a pair of Tennessee touchdowns in the first five minutes of the third period.
The Volunteers pulled even on Casey Clausen's 13-yard pass to Jason Witten 1:54 into the third quarter.
After Rutgers was forced to punt, Clausen and Washington hooked up again, giving Tennessee a first down at the Rutgers 16. On the next play, Troy Fleming went straight up the middle for a touchdown 10:07 left in the third. The two-play, 64-yard drive took just 36 seconds.
Washington hauled in a 58-yard pass early in the final quarter to give Tennessee a two-touchdown lead, but the Volunteers still could not pull away.
Linebacker Keyon Whiteside had an interception return for a touchdown nullified due to a roughing-the-passer penalty, while Alex Walls missed two field goals.
Tennessee got a late touchdown on Jabari Davis' two-yard run with 1:41 remaining.
Tennessee knew it was going to have a battle on its hands when Rutgers' Nathan Jones returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.