Nothing to play for? Hardly. Vols trying to avoid some bad history
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee and Vanderbilt, both 4-7 overall and winless in the SEC, will square off to end the regular season.
Tennessee has no bowl hopes. Vanderbilt, with a win, has a chance based on its APR.
But that doesn’t mean the Vols enter the game with nothing on the line.
Tennessee holds a 4-3 record over the Commodores this decade, the most losses suffered to Vanderbilt in a decade since the 1920s, when the Vols were 2-6-1.
The Vols are also looking to avoid losing to both Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the same season for the first time since 1964. They’re also trying to avoid the program’s first winless SEC season or eight-loss season.
Tennessee and Ohio State are the only FBS schools to never post an eight-loss season. Nine SEC teams have lost at least 10 games in a season.
Vols interim head coach Brady Hoke has made it a point to send the seniors out with a win in “a state rivalry game.”
“Everything counts in games that are of this magnitude,” Hoke said. “We have 22 seniors that we want to continue to get experiences out of their careers at the University of Tennessee and we want to leave them with a win.”
Hoke realizes that Vanderbilt “started off well” and “have had some hiccups similar to what we (Tennessee) have had” after the Vols started 3-1 then were winless in October.
Defensively, Vanderbilt mirrors Tennessee in being one-sided. The Commodores rank 29th nationally in pass defense, but 114th in run defense. The Vols rank 2nd nationally in pass defense, yet 126th in run defense.
“As a football team, defensively they are very versatile in what they do,” Hoke said. “Targeting at the line of scrimmage for our offensive linemen will be something that we have to do a good job at.”
Offensively, senior running back Ralph Webb will be playing his last game at Vanderbilt barring a win and a possibility of making a bowl at 5-7 based on APR score.
Webb is ninth all-time in career rushing yards in SEC history with 4,015 yards. Webb can move up to sole possession of sixth all-time with at least a 149-yard performance against Tennessee.
Vanderbilt also has a stable quarterback with Kyle Shurmur. The junior quarterback has recorded his second consecutive season of throwing for at least 2,400 yards. The difference this season is efficiency. Shurmur threw 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season and has thrown for 22 touchdowns in 2017 with 10 interceptions.
With Hoke having a Michigan footprint in coaching, he knows Kyle’s father, Pat, who played at Michigan State and was an assistant with the Spartans.
“Kyle Shurmur is a very good football player, with his background and I know his father quite well,” Hoke said. “He leads the team well. They have taken care of the football pretty well as a team. I think we have our work cut out for us, but it will be fun.”
Hoke is making it a priority to send the team off with a victory and allowing the team to avenge last season’s loss to Vanderbilt that ultimately knocked the Vols out of a Sugar Bowl appearance.
Senior tight end Ethan Wolf remembers last season’s loss to Vanderbilt. Needless to say, he doesn’t want to repeat it.
“There is a lot of tradition and rivalry behind this game,” Wolf said. “We played hard, but things didn’t go our way (last season). We let it slip out of our hands. That was a big loss that hurt us deep and has been some motivation.”