We're doing something different this week. Instead of trying to figure out what Tennessee's going to have to do to win, let's take this in reverse. What's Vanderbilt going to have to do to beat Tennessee?
Let's start with a central premise: Vanderbilt is bad at football this year. They beat UMass thanks to the best example of #collegekickers this year. They beat Charleston Southern by a point. They did beat Old Dominion by 2 TDs, which I'm chalking up to me thinking Old Dominon would cover. Sorry about that, ODU. I'm kind of cursed this year.
Anyway: there's a non-zero chance Vanderbilt s the worst team Tennessee's faced so far this year. In all likelihood, Vanderbilt's the second-worst team--I'd put them around Arkansas State in terms of overall quality, except we could point to things the Red Wolves could do well. So, with that said:
IS VANDERBILT GOOD AT ANYTHING THIS YEAR?
At least when it comes to anything major or important. They're dead last in the SEC in scoring offense, scoring defense, and total offense. The 'Dores don't pull the clean sweep though, since they check in at 12th (of 14) in the SEC in total defense. (They're also 11th in run defense and pass defense, so that's ....better? I guess?)
Are they within 20 yards per game of Tennessee in any of these categories? Well, no. But that wasn't the question I asked myself, was it?
Let's make the question easier.
OKAY, FINE. IS VANDERBILT BETTER THAN TENNESSEE AT ANYTHING THIS YEAR?
As a matter of fact, they are! Vandy's notably better than Tennessee at both not allowing sacks and not allowing tackles for loss, which is a subject so beaten into the ground at this point you know it by heart. They're also technically better at red zone conversion defense, which is a weird stat as monitored by the NCAA. I'd trust the 24.5 ppg allowed by the Tennessee defense as better than the 34.1 ppg allowed by the Vanderbilt defense.
Other weird things they're better at: forcing fumbles (8 to 7, because that's a huge sample size), opponent kickoffs (because this is sustainable), and not allowing plays of 30+ yards from scrimmage (18 to Tennessee's 24). That's, um, it. Here, see if you can find anything.
So that didn't work. Let's try one more time.
OKAY, SO ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC PLAYERS WORTH WORRYING ABOUT?
Ralph Webb would be the obvious one; he's 10th in the SEC in rushing offense (better than anyone who'll be in orange on Saturday; Jalen Hurd clocks in at 12th but is slightly more efficient on a per-carry basis). Webb's campaign is pretty impressive since there isn't anyone who catches anything worth worrying about (Steven Scheu is their leading receiver at 42 yards a game, so let's not pretend too much) and the less said about a 4-QB system the better. The aggregate stats are fun, though: 6.1 YPA, 51.1%, 12 TD/16 INT. It's like Maty Mauk, except I don't know anyone who's excited. Johnny McCrary (52.4%, 6.7 YPA, 9 TD/7 INT) is worth at least paying attention too.
On the defensive side of the ball: Nigel Bowden's their leading tackler, who might miss the game. Welp. That leaves ...Torren McCaster? Zach Cunningham? Taurean Ferguson? It's not pretty is what I'm getting at.
Ugh. Fine. Adjusting the parameters down one more time:
SO IF YOU'RE A VANDERBILT FAN, WHAT ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT?
Two seasons from now? Next year, maybe? Karl Dorrell getting canned? A lot of this team is super-young and we've seen what happens when you apply experience to talent. I'm not sure, really, but feel free to let me know what you're excited about if you're a Vanderbilt fan, because man, that cliff had to hurt when you hit the ground.
This really isn't working, is it? Heck with this idea. Let's just try outright fantasy:
SO HOW DOES VANDERBILT WIN THIS GAME?
This game gets really stupid, basically. We're talking the offensive line literally not showing up, Marlin Lane staging a coup demanding 50 carries, and a disgruntled Alex Ellis kneecapping Joshua Dobbs. Even with that, we're still talking some Homer at the Bat-level insanity to make this game close, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, brush up on your Simpsons.
THE PREDICTION: 41-17 Tennessee. I don't see that happening.