KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It’s Rivalry Week for Tennessee, which closes its season at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Neyland Stadium against Vanderbilt.
The Vols (4-7, 0-7 SEC) are trying to avoid becoming the first Tennessee football team in history to lose eight games in a season and go winless in SEC play, while the Commodores (4-7, 0-7) are looking for their fourth win in the past six meetings in the series.
Vols players and interim head coach Brady Hoke have referred to the game as a rivalry, perhaps not wanting to provide Vanderbilt any added motivation in what has become an intrastate grudge match. Tennessee is dealing with a rash of injuries for the second consecutive season, but the Commodores won’t be feeling any pity.
SEC Country beat writers Mike Griffith and Blake Morgan break down the keys to the game for Tennessee. This week features some familiar storylines, starting under center, where there have been plenty of surprises for the Vols this season.
Tennessee has a tough call to make at quarterback, where redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano has been hobbled by a sprained ankle, and true freshman Will McBride is coming off a week in concussion protocol.
Both quarterbacks are expected to be available, while junior Quinten Dormady is done for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Guarantano has the stronger arm and more experience of the two, while McBride offers a threat to run out of the read option.
It has been said that games are won or lost at the line of scrimmage, and Tennessee could point to its struggles there as reasons why the losses have mounted.
The Vols offensive line finished up the 30-10 loss to LSU with just four healthy scholarship offensive linemen, while the defense caved in to the Tigers’ run game in the second half.
Tennessee will need improved play to stop Vanderbilt tailback Ralph Webb, the Commodores’ all-time rushing leader with 4,015 yards.
Sometimes it comes down to who wants it more, and there’s reason for both teams to have plenty of motivation.
The Vols’ motivation is obvious, with 22 seniors set to run through Tennessee’s trademark “T” formation one final time at historic Neyland Stadium.