Fearless Prediction: Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt
The Fearless Prediction has been correct 3 times in a row. It is still fighting the good fight, staying ahead on points … doing all it can to get to the finish line. It’s been a long season, with many twists and turns. Let’s see if we can go out in style.
On Saturday afternoon, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will renew their in-state rivalry. Vanderbilt, of course, is the school that General Robert Neyland was tasked with defeating when he became Tennessee’s head coach in 1926. At the time, Vanderbilt was the dominant team in the South.
In 3 tours of duty as Tennessee’s head coach (1926-1934, 1936-1940, 1946-1952), Neyland’s Vols went 16-3-2 against the Commodores, tipping the balance of power in this rivalry for years to come. In fact, between 1927-2011, Tennessee only lost to Vanderbilt 10 times. Unfortunately for Vols fans, since 2012 Vanderbilt has won 5 of the past 7 matchups, including a most recent 3-game winning streak. Nothing sums up the Vols’ struggles in recent years like their multiple defeats to the Commodores, a team they dominated for decades.
This season the Vols appear to be on an upward trajectory while Vanderbilt enters the last game of the regular season with a 3-8 record. The Commodores are coming off a 38-0 win over ETSU, but we can’t take a whole lot from that game against a weak FCS opponent, except that attendance was very, very light in Nashville. An “announced” crowd of 19,893 showed up. Derek Mason, now finishing his 6th year as Vandy’s head coach, will be back in 2020, much to the chagrin of many Vandy fans. Their program doesn’t appear to be anywhere close to taking a step forward. It feels like this rivalry is heading back toward the orange and white side. We’ll know more about that after their 113th all-time meeting this weekend.
Tennessee is playing its best football. After starting 1-4, they’ve won 5 of their past 6, including last week’s 24-20 victory at Missouri that earned the Vols bowl eligibility for the first time since 2016. The much-maligned Jarrett Guarantano threw for 415 yards and 2 scores against a pretty good Tigers defense. For the first time in program history, 3 Vols (Marquez Callaway, Jauan Jennings, Josh Palmer) had over 100 yards receiving in the same game. Defensively, the Vols only allowed 280 yards of offense.
Unexpectedly, this Tennessee team keeps getting better. If not for the job Ed Orgeron has done at LSU, Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt would likely be the SEC Coach of the Year. This second half surge should give Vols fans confidence about the future.
The advertising campaign says that in the SEC, “It Just Means More.” Well, this Tennessee/Vanderbilt game might mean more to one of the Vols than anyone.
Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings does not like Vanderbilt. I mean, he really does not like Vanderbilt. The 5th-year senior played high school football at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro, less than an hour from the Vandy campus. Near the end of the 2017 season, Jennings asked interim head coach Brady Hoke to let him play in what was a meaningless game against the Commodores. It was the last game on the schedule. Both teams were winless in SEC play and and neither team was going to become bowl eligible, no matter the result.
Jennings had missed all but the opening 30 minutes of the season with a dislocated wrist, but felt that he was healthy enough to play. Hoke denied the request. Jennings then went on an Instagram rant in which he mentioned numerous times how much he hated Vanderbilt. He also ripped into Hoke and the coaching staff. Hoke and athletics director John Currie responded by kicking Jennings off the team.
Of course, Jennings was allowed back on the team in 2018. In the past 2 years, Jennings has become a team leader, and carried the Vols to some key victories in that time. It will be senior day in Knoxville, the last chance for Jennings and these seniors to play a game at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee is confident, motivated and I don’t expect them to allow the Commodores to spoil the party.
Fearless Prediction time …
Tennessee 31, Vanderbilt 10