5 bold predictions for Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt is seeking its first bowl game appearance under head coach Derek Mason.
Tennessee, which head coach Butch Jones proclaimed “champions of life” after falling short of the SEC East Division title, could have a shot at the Sugar Bowl.
The in-state SEC rivals meet Saturday in Nashville, and here are five bold predictions about what will happen.
1. Joshua Dobbs will be more effective through the air: Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs has always excelled as a mobile option; he recently set the Vols’ career record for rushing TDs by a quarterback.
His passing, however, has been hit or miss. He leads the SEC with 24 touchdown passes but also 12 interceptions.
But with Vanderbilt having the No. 11 passing defense in the SEC, expect Dobbs to excel through the air. Let’s not discredit Jauan Jennings and Josh Malone from being two of the SEC’s best receivers in 2016, even with the team’s emphasis on its rushing attack.
2. Ralph Webb will break at least one Vandy rushing record: Ralph Webb , who has 3,117 career yards, enters Saturday’s game just 27 yards shy of breaking Zac Stacy’s all-time rushing record at Vanderbilt.
There’s nothing bold about predicting he’ll break that mark, but Webb also has a chance to break Stacy’s single-season rushing record.
Stacy ran for 1,193 yards in 2011.
Webb has 1,058. He’ll need 136 Saturday to break it.
Webb is a junior, but it’s almost a sure bet that he’ll skip his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft, so expect him to end his career in Nashville with a big performance Saturday.
3. Derek Barnett will break Reggie White’s sack record: Vols defensive end Derek Barnett is one sack short of Reggie White’s career sack record of 32. So what better place for the Nashville native to break the record than his hometown?
It’s not a stretch to assume Barnett can record multiple sacks Saturday. He’s excelled in SEC games, especially late in the season and Vanderbilt’s offensive line ranks 13th among SEC teams in sacks allowed (26.0).
Barnett is expected to be a high pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, so it’s very unlikely he’ll return for his senior season. Even with the extra bowl game, the junior should be able to etch his name in Tennessee’s record book in Week 13.
The SEC record, in case you were wondering, is out of reach. Alabama’s Derrick Thomas had 52 from 1985-88.
4. Vanderbilt will keep it close: For several weeks, fans and experts assumed Tennessee would have an easy road to the SEC Championship Game. Then the South Carolina upset happened, as well as leading rusher Jalen Hurd’s decision to transfer.
Even after those events, the Vols were still expected to end their season with four easy wins. But Vanderbilt proved it wasn’t a pushover in its upset of Ole Miss last week. This is an underrated team with a capable defense.
Tennessee should still win, but don’t expect this game to be a blowout. Two years ago, Dobbs and Co. escaped Nashville with a seven-point victory.
5. Tennessee will have two 100-yard rushers (again): Last week, Dobbs ran for a career-high 190 and John Kelly added 101 yards. A week early, against Kentucky, Dobbs went for 147, Alvin Kamara added 128 and Kelly just missed with 94.
Vanderbilt is one of the SEC’s better run defenses, but it has allowed three opponents to top 250 yards.
Tennessee is running it as well as it has all season, going for 386 and 376 the past two weeks.
The Vols will look to pound home the point, again, that they don’t miss Jalen Hurd.