Game Day Preview: What you need to know about Vanderbilt-Tennessee
The Commodores are making their way down to Neyland Stadium for the state’s biggest rivalry game. Vanderbilt will need its offense to finally step up, and its defense must stick to the relentless identity it has created this season.
If the Commodores can find a balance, then they have a shot at competing with the Vols. However, it’ll be tough because Tennessee has played well in its past four games, and the Vols will be on their home turf.
Here’s what else you need to know about this weekend’s clash in Tennessee:
Vanderbilt Commodores (4-7, 2-5 SEC) vs. Tennessee Vols (7-4, 4-3 SEC)
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Weather: 65 degrees (Weather.com)
Line: Tennessee -17.5
By the numbers
17 – There have been 17 new starters for Vanderbilt this year, mostly because of the laundry list of injuries. Among the brand new starters this season are freshman QB Kyle Shurmur and junior WR Darrius Sims.
3 – Only three other SEC rivalries have played each other more than Vanderbilt-Tennessee. Those rivalries include Auburn-Georgia, Ole Miss-Mississippi State, and Kentucky-Tennessee. However, Vanderbilt has played Tennessee more than any other team.
110 – This will be the 110th meeting between the two schools. The Tennessee Vols have dominated the all-time series, 70-34-5, but Vanderbilt has won two of the last three matchups.
Storylines to watch
Will Vanderbilt’s D hold Tennessee’s run game in check?
Vanderbilt’s defense is playing at a top-notch level and it has established an identity of its own. The unit leads the SEC in third down defense and ranks second in red zone defense. The Commodores have made a number of goal-line stands this season.
It’ll be interesting to see if this will be the case for Tennessee and its running game, because the Commodores have only allowed around 18.1 points per game. Coach Derek Mason has been preparing them all week for what they will see on Saturday — quarterback Josh Dobbs and running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara are three weapons that will test Vanderbilt early.
QB Kyle Shurmur at No. 1 on the depth chart
After experimenting with a dual-quarterback system, Mason has decided to stick with only one quarterback. Shurmur will start for the Commodores, and his performance is crucial.
Shurmur stepped up in seizing Vanderbilt’s second conference win of the season over Kentucky, but he looked shaky all over again last week against Texas A&M.
What will LB Zach Cunningham bring to the table Saturday?
Zach Cunningham has been one to watch on Vanderbilt’s defense ever since won a starting position for the Commodores earlier this season. The sophomore had 14 total tackles, 10 solo stops, and three tackles for loss just against Texas A&M, and he’s performed about that well in every other game he’s started.
He’s one of the SEC’s most productive tacklers and a crucial member of the defense.
Ralph Webb’s second-half surge
Ralph Webb has broken both the freshman and sophomore rushing records for Vanderbilt and is one of Vandy’s Top Ten backs for career rushing yardage — the sophomore is at No. 6. Webb currently has 1,003 rushing yards this season, which is the fifth-most in the SEC.
Webb’s performance against the Vols is crucial, and there’s no doubt the sophomore will be ready to rock on the field in Knoxville.
Prediction: Tennessee 27, Vanderbilt 14
Tennessee is highly-favored in this rivalry matchup and with good reason. The Vols have won their past four games after a rough start, and Vanderbilt’s offensive performance hasn’t been exceptional this season. The ‘Dores’ defense will need to do as much as it can to prevent this game from getting out of hand. Mason doesn’t believe he’s seen the best of the Commodores yet this season, but the Vols aren’t going to jeopardize losing the last game of the regular season at home.