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Tennessee Volunteers vs. Vanderbilt Commodores Prediction and Preview

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Vanderbilt Commodores Prediction and Preview

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Vanderbilt Commodores Prediction and Preview

The Tennessee Volunteers (5-6, 2-5 SEC) and Vanderbilt Commodores (5-6, 2-5) will have far more than bragging rights at stake when they take the field for their annual in-state rivalry matchup on Saturday. Both teams enter the divisional showdown one victory shy of bowl eligibility. And while the winner is guaranteed to go bowling, the team that comes up short will be relegated to the bottom of the SEC East standings with a losing record.

This game will be particularly pivotal in defining Jeremy Pruitt’s first-season on Rocky Top. Pruitt’s Vols squandered an opportunity to lock up a bowl berth last week with an embarrassing 50-17 loss at home to Missouri. It was a major setback for a Tennessee team one week removed from its second upset win of the season against a ranked SEC opponent. The desperate Vols will now make their way to Music City to face the rival Commodores in search of a crucial sixth win to secure bowl eligibility.

Derek Mason’s Commodores needed a crucial fifth win last week just to be in position for a possible bowl berth this week against Tennessee. Vanderbilt came through, albeit in somewhat controversial fashion, with a 36-29 victory over Ole Miss in overtime. The Commodores now have an opportunity to reap all the spoils that come with beating the Volunteers for the third year in a row, something that has not happened since 1926.

Tennessee leads the all-time series 75-32-5. However, Vanderbilt has won four of the last six matchups, including each of the last two. The Commodores beat the Vols by a score of 42-24 last season in Knoxville.

Tennessee at Vanderbilt

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 24 at 4:00 p.m. ET

TV: SEC Network

Spread: Vanderbilt -3.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Ke’Shawn Vaughn keep it rolling on Saturday?

The junior running back has been on fire of late, rushing for 481 rushing yards with 6 touchdowns over his last three games. Vaughn has run for no less than 127 yards and at least one touchdown during that stretch. For the season, he has amassed 1,113 yards-from-scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns. And his 7.1 yards per carry average is the best in the SEC.

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Vaughn will be paired against a Tennessee run defense on Saturday that has been wildly inconsistent this season. Case in point: The Volunteers surrendered 227 rushing yards and three touchdowns last week to Missouri, just one week after stifling Benny Snell Jr. and a potent Kentucky rushing attack. The Vols allow 159.5 rushing yards per game on average (60th nationally, 9th in the SEC). It’s hard not to like Vaughn’s chances to hit the century mark and find pay dirt for the fourth consecutive week.

2. The Tennessee offensive line

Consistency has been an issue for the Volunteers on both sides of the football all season. You truly never know what to expect from this team. Tennessee’s much-maligned offensive line has been at the forefront of the roller coaster ride. The Vols’ success, or lack thereof, on offense has been predicated on how well this group performs from week to week. And we have seen more bad from the Volunteer offensive line this season than good, which is a big reason why Tennessee sits at, or near, the bottom of the SEC in most statistical categories offensively.

Fortunately, the Vols will be facing a Vanderbilt defense that suffers from the same problem. The Commodores rank 13th in the conference in both total defense (436 ypg) and rush defense (195 ypg). And they have been only slightly better against the pass, ranking 10th in the SEC (241 ypg). This will be one of the more favorable matchups that the Tennessee offense has faced all season. But it isn’t going to amount to much if the Tennessee offensive line doesn’t show up to take advantage of it.

3. The quarterbacks

The good news for Tennessee is that it looks like Jarrett Guarantano, as well as his favorite target, Marquez Callaway, will be good to go on Saturday after both players exited last week’s game prematurely due to injury. That bodes well for a Tennessee passing game that will need to be hitting on all cylinders against the Commodores. Guarantano served as one of the few bright spots for the Tennessee offense last season against Vanderbilt, completing 64 percent of his passes for 183 yards with two touchdowns against one interception. Guarantano’s biggest adversary on Saturday will be Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams. The junior defensive back has the second-most interceptions (four) and passes defended (nine) in the SEC this season.

Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur will be making his fourth and final start against Tennessee on Saturday. Shurmur has averaged a little more than 300 passing yards and three touchdowns per game against the Vols in three previous starts. A successful run to say the least, and a run the senior quarterback hopes to continue on Saturday. Look for Shurmur to lean heavily on go-to targets Kalija Lipscomb (73 receptions, 800 yards, 9 TDs) and Jared Pinkney (41 receptions, 658 yards, 6 TDs), along with a veteran Vanderbilt offensive line.

Final Analysis

If the “good version” of Tennessee shows up on Saturday, the Vols stand a great chance of coming away with a victory and a bowl berth. But that is a big question mark given Tennessee’s track record this season. One thing that isn’t in question is Vanderbilt’s track record against Tennessee, particularly on offense. The Tennessee defense will line up against many of the same faces on Saturday that have enjoyed an abundance of success against them over the last two seasons. Granted, the Tennessee defense is in much better shape this time around under Pruitt. But Shurmur just seems to have Tennessee’s number, and the Vanderbilt offense has caught lightning in a bottle of late with Vaughn.

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Prediction: Vanderbilt 30, Tennessee 24

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.