Well, it's been quite a while since the Volunteers last stepped on the football field, and I'm kind of itching to see them play again. (Insert wisecrack here; just get it out of your system now.) It's been a dismal year for the Vols, as we all know, and a terrific year for the Commodores. With Vandy now bowl-eligible and UT without a chance of it, it's a view to the game that none of us ever expected.
Still, it's a football game. Let's take a look at some of the charts and numbers:
UT OFFENSE VS. VANDY DEFENSE
Might as well get the ugly out of the way early:
We've seen the misery that is the UT offense, so there's really not much to add to the discussion anymore. I will note that the passing game went in the tank against Wyoming. Granted, Wyoming has a relatively decent defense, but certainly not one that should be capable of shutting down UT in Neyland stadium. Look at the green line. The gradual decrease in the offensive production still has not shown any signs of turning around.
Vanderbilt's defense, on the other hand, has been very consistent. Against the hot offenses, they do get beat (UGA and Florida). Against bad offenses, they hold up well (Auburn and MSU). The two charts suggest that UT would average somewhere around 4 yards per play, which is quite low. Now, UT has had a week off to rest players and take more time to try to fix some of the problems. Obviously, it's not enough time to make the offense work like it should, but there's a chance it was just enough to make a positive difference. We'll have to see.
VANDY OFFENSE VS. UT DEFENSE
This should look better to Vols fans:
Aaaah....that's better. Vanderbilt's offense has indeed been more productive than UT's - but only by a scant margin. The trend would suggest a slight decrease in offensive production, but that also corresponds to an increase in the strenght of opposing defenses. The one thing that Vanderbilt has had going for them is a decent turnover ratio. So while they may not get much done the traditional way, they do a better job of getting opportunities via fumbles and interceptions while not giving up the ball themselves.
Meanwhile, UT's defense has actually been quite decent this year. I wouldn't put them in the Great Wall of China category, but they're not far off from that. The worst performances were against Georgia and Alabama, but a lot of that was the result of being on the field for far too long against deep and talented offenses. UT should outmatch Vanderbilt when Vanderbilt has the ball.
I'll be honest here. The last few weeks of coaching turmoil, juggling Wyoming/Tennessee fandoms, coaching turmoil, the start of basketball, and coaching turmoil have taken a bit of a toll. I'm not going to go any deeper into the analysis right now for a simple reason. I just want to watch the game for the sake of watching the game. I'm going to sit back, relax, let the game play out, and cheer as appropriate. For once this season, the game is going to be nothing but entertainment for me.
Having said that, the matchup actually seems to favor - [gasp] - UT by a very, very slight margin. Factor in the Vandy homefield, and this appears to be a push. Therefore, I'll go out on a limb and say UT 27, Vanderbilt 17. Naturally, that will change to random scores at random intervals between now and gametime, then will magically morph into the exact final score immediately before the final second ticks off the clock.