Vanderbilt’s defense has established a strong identity, disregarding last weekend’s 25-point hiccup against Texas A&M. And the Commodores must rely on that defensive prowess if they want a chance to compete with Tennessee this weekend.
Tennessee is No. 2 in the SEC with 2,351 rushing yards, so coach Derek Mason knows exactly what his defense must do to steal a win over its biggest rival: The ‘Dores must stop Tennessee’s run game.
“They’re going to attack us in the run game, but we’re going to have to stand up,” Mason said.
The Vols have a number of weapons, including quarterback Josh Dobbs and running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Mason has a plethora of concerns when it comes to dealing with all three rushing powerhouses, but his team has seen it all before.
“You have to try to contain all facets of what they do, and you know what, it’s hard,” Mason said. “But the thing that you do realize about Tennessee in the last four games, as they’ve been on that four-game stretch, is that they’ve run the ball extremely well.
“You look at Kamara and what they’re doing with Jalen Hurd — it’s been unbelievable between those two and Josh Dobbs what they’ve been able to do on the ground.”
Vanderbilt is throwing Tennessee’s record out the window, and the Commodores defense is intensely preparing itself for what it will see Saturday. The defensive game plan is to contain the quarterback, minimize explosive plays, populate around the football and force Tennessee’s offense into third downs as much as possible.
Although Mason is expecting a lot out of Tennessee’s offense, coach Butch Jones isn’t putting anything past Vanderbilt’s defense. According to him, the longer the drive, the better Vanderbilt becomes. Jones knows that the Commodores defense consistently shuts down ball movement down the field, and after witnessing Vanderbilt force Texas A&M to kick six field goals, he believes it’ll come down to execution in Tennessee’s run game.
“It’s really hard to score on them,” Jones said. “They have very, very good team speed. They play with great effort. They have a tenacity about themselves, a relentlessness, and they’re very, very physical. We found that out firsthand last year.”
The Vols are averaging 32.6 points a game, but Vanderbilt’s defense has been holding its opponents to 18.1 points and 1.5 touchdowns per game.
“They’re doing a better job of trying to be more intentional,” Mason said. “It’s not always perfect, but I think these guys have found a way to be [confident] in what they do. They believe in who they are and what their identity is.”
Tennessee’s top-notch offense and Vanderbilt’s unrelenting defense will square off Saturday, with the more powerful unit likely deciding the outcome of the game.