But Casey Hayward returned the favor on the next possession, and after a long drive, Fowler connected on a 31-yard field goal on the last play of the half.
VU went 3-and-out to start the half, but the Vols fumbled the ensuing punt, and Dexter Daniels recovered at the UT 21.
Smith threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown a couple plays later, but a personal foul on a late hit by UT's Malik Jackson wiped out the play.
But the 'Dores missed a short field goal to blow that opportunity.
Kenneth Ladler picked Bray on the next possession near midfield, but that drive, too, failed when the Vols blocked Fowler's field goal.
Tennessee added a 29-yard Daniel Lincoln early in the fourth quarter to put the Vols up, 17-3.
Vandy had a chance to crawl closer, when Funk, subbing for an injured Smith, hit Matthews with an apparent touchdown pass moments later. But officials ruled that Matthews ran out of bounds on the play, which negated the score.
"I could have sworn that boy got forced out of bounds," Caldwell said.
Moments later, Funk threw an interception to Janzen Jackson to kill that drive.
VU's lone touchdown came on a seven-play, 74-yard drive that Funk engineered. But the ensuing onside kick failed, and after Poole's game-sealing touchdown, the Commodores ended the evening knocking on the door inside the UT 20.
The touchdown was the third in three games for Matthews, which is good enough to tie him for the team lead despite his limited playing time.
"I was able to drive it on a slant route and then when I saw them converge on me, that's when I planted my foot into the deep and it just happened to open up and Funk saw me. It was a great pass and the offensive line protected really well and that's what resulted in the touchdown," Matthews said.
Funk completed 9-of-14 passes for 146 yards, as the Commodores gained 333 yards on 77 plays.
The game wasn't a sell-out, and only 37,017 fans attended.
The Commodores (2-9, 1-7 Southeastern Conference) finish their season against Wake Forest next Saturday.