Game Day Preview: What you need to know about Tennessee-Vanderbilt
It could be a historic win for Tennessee, because recent history hasn’t been too kind.
The Vols are hoping to reach their highest regular-season win total since 2007 when Tennessee hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday. They won nine regular-season games that year, which was the end of a 13-year stretch where the Vols won nine or more 11 times. The Vols are a heavy favorite against the Commodores, who have shown modest improvement under second-year coach Derek Mason.
Tennessee has seen plenty of ups and downs this season. Blown leads were followed by an upset win over Georgia and a strong showing in a close loss to Alabama. Tennessee hopes to cap the season off with a five-game winning streak. It will need to beat Vandy to do that.
Here’s what else you need to know about the game on Saturday:
Vanderbilt Commodores (4-7, 2-5 SEC) at Tennessee Volunteers (7-4, 4-3 SEC)
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Weather: 64 degrees, cloudy (Weather.com)
Line: Tennessee -17.5
By the numbers
7 – The number of times Tennessee has topped 200 yards rushing this season.
74 – The number of wins Tennessee has against Vanderbilt. That’s second to Tennessee’s 78 wins over Kentucky among all Tennessee’s past opponents. The two schools have squared off 109 times.
213.7 – Tennessee’s average rushing yards per game this season. That’s the highest per game average since the Vols gained 231.8 yards per game in 1994. Jalen Hurd, who enters Saturday with 1,038 yards on the season, became the 18th 1,000-yard rusher in Tennessee history last week. He’s also the first Tennessee sophomore to accomplish that feat.
Storylines to watch
Can Tennessee’s ground game keep moving forward?
The Vols have had one of their best seasons running the football in almost two decades. Vanderbilt, however, is stout against the run. The Commodores rush defense is ranked No. 24 in the country, allowing just 126 yards per game. The Vols haven’t been very proficient throwing the ball this season. They’ll need a successful ground attack to open up the passing game.
|Can the Vols convert?
Vanderbilt has the fifth best red-zone defense in the nation. Tennessee struggled to finish drives last week against Missouri, and far too often this season, the Vols had to settle for field goals. If that happens again on Saturday, it could keep Vandy in the game.
Will emotions affect the game early?
Tennessee’s seniors will be honored before the game in Neyland Stadium. It’s a group that has been through a lot. They’ve seen Tennessee football at an all-time low. They’ve also helped make the Vols relevant again. Hugs and tears could affect the pacing of the game in the first half
Prediction: Tennessee 20, Vanderbilt 9
The Vols have too much to lose if they overlook Vanderbilt on Saturday. A win against Vandy could send Tennessee to a Florida bowl. A loss to the Commodores would be hard to explain. It would certainly cast a pall over a season that can otherwise end on a positive note.