Tennessee football: There's no way the Vols will lose to Vandy. Right? Right???
Sure, it’s been a brutal season on old Rocky Top. After a 2-0 start, nobody foresaw a 2-6 season. But surely the low point has been hit. No matter how awkward this season has been, the Vols can handle Vandy. Maybe.
If the UT season has been an odyssey, the Commodores’ season has been a ride on the Titanic. Not only are the Commodores 0-8, but they’re 14th in the SEC in scoring offense and 13th in scoring defense, 13th in offensive yardage, 13th in defensive yardage allowed. They’re last in the league in turnover margin, in part because they have managed exactly a single interception in 8 games played.
But could they beat Tennessee? Well, Vandy has won 3 of the last 4 games in the series. Or 5 of the last 8. Tennessee had won every game from 1983 to 2004, but the decline of the UT program has shifted the momentum in this series. That said, the Vandy teams that beat UT weren’t this Vandy team.
But this Vandy team has a more functional passing game than Tennessee. They long ago put their trust in their true freshman quarterback. The Commodores have a better completion percentage than the Vols, as well as more passing yards and more passing touchdowns. They do have a couple more interceptions thrown, but the overall edge in passing goes to the Commodores. For that matter, Vandy QB Ken Seals is the established starter. We don’t even know who starts for UT on Saturday under center, though we know it won’t be Jarrett Guarantano. Jeremy Pruitt said Harrison Bailey and J.T. Shrout are the options.
Tennessee seems to have the superior running game, but Vandy back Keyon Henry-Brooks may be back in the lineup. While UT’s duo of Gray and Chandler have more yards, Henry-Brooks actually averages more yards per game than either back, placing 7th in that stat in the SEC. If he can go, UT’s advantage there is significantly pared down.
Vandy’s Cam Johnson is the top statistical receiver in the game. UT kicker Brett Cimaglia opted out of the rest of the season, taking away a potential UT edge in the kicking game. The top pass rusher in the game is Vandy’s Dayo Odeyingbo, whose 5.5 sacks are tied for 2nd in the SEC. Frankly, the edge that UT would have seemed to enjoy in this game even a few weeks ago is shakier now than then.
Make no mistake, Tennessee’s roster still has a significant degree of talent advantage. The Commodores have been at the bottom of the recruiting rankings under deposed coach Derek Mason, and while UT hasn’t been at the top of the SEC, there are plenty more 4- and 5-star recruits who will be dressed in orange and white than in black and gold.
The other potential advantage is motivation. Mason has already been fired. Tennessee has endured a difficult season, but the calls for the firing of Jeremy Pruitt haven’t hit full tilt. Even if Vandy were to win this game, it’s hard to imagine the Commodores picking up another win against Georgia. Meanwhile, UT could still swing momentum into an upset or at least a competitive game with Texas A&M to end the regular season. There are doubtlessly more bowls interested in a 3-7 or 4-6 UT team than a 1-9 or 0-10 Vandy team.
So maybe the confidence is in the right place. Your father or grandfather’s Tennessee team would not have lost this game to Vanderbilt. But there’s still the uncertainty of knowing that this Tennessee team could. But they won’t. Right? Right???