For the second week in a row, the Vols defense struggled, but for the second week in a row, the Vols offense exploded. This week, they coupled 600+ yards of offense with a +4 turnover margin to knock off the Missouri Tigers 63-37 in Neyland. I’m giving Closest to the Pin to Volundore, whose 42-31 prediction didn’t beat the spread, but he had the highest-scoring predication of anyone, and. . . well, if you watched last week, you’ll understand why that was the best prediction. This week, the Vols travel down I-40 to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores. Our staff expects another shootout. Well, everyone except Opposite George, and he’s been our best picker the last couple weeks, so who knows. To the picks!
Incipient (9-2 straight up, 5-6 against the spread): Tennessee has now allowed 400 yards on the ground in three of their last four SEC games, and there aren't any reinforcements on the way. This week, the Vols face off against Vanderbilt and Ralph Webb, who ran for 149 yards against a much better Vols defense last season. After watching the Kentucky and Missouri games, I'm going to go ahead and mark him down for a career day. That leaves two questions. First, can the Tennessee offense keep pace? Second, can the Tennessee defense get enough key stops to win? To the first question, the Tennessee offense has done an exemplary job the last two weeks, and Vanderbilt's defense won't be anywhere near the toughest they've faced this season, although it will be tougher than Missouri's or Kentucky's. To the second question? Let's just say I'm not going to count on a +4 turnover ratio for two straight weeks. Vanderbilt has a bowl bid in sight and has only a battered Vols squad in front of them. This is their best shot since 2013, and I think they take it. Vanderbilt 35 Tennessee 31
Will (8-3 straight up, 7-4 against the spread): I'm going way over the total here. Vanderbilt's defense is better than Kentucky's and Missouri's but still statistically worse than every other FBS team the Vols have faced. And the only Top 5 SEC offenses they've faced this year were from Missouri and Auburn, both of which went for 6+ yards per play. The Commodores were able to shorten the game against Auburn because the Tigers only put the ball in the air 17 times. They won't have that luxury against Tennessee. I fully expect the Vol defense to have similar struggles against Vanderbilt's rushing attack. But I also fully expect Tennessee's offense to continue to hum. Tennessee 41 Vanderbilt 34
Joel (9-2 straight up, 5-6 against the spread): Tennessee 33 Vanderbilt 21
Chris (7-4 straight up, 4-7 against the spread): I'm assuming that the rest of Tennessee's games this year will be less SEC-style football (grind it out 21-17 puntfests, er, slugfests) and more runaway Big XII jalopy. In that vein, Vanderbilt's probably 30% smoke, 25% mirrors, and 45% Ralph Webb, and--well, had Will not just beaten the tar out of the over already--I'd tell you we're in for a shootout. So yeah, let's get stupid. Tennessee 52 Vanderbilt 41
Hunter (8-3 straight up, 4-7 against the spread): This game should terrify Tennessee fans-- not because Derek Mason has suddenly become a good coach or the Vandy roster has vastly improved-- but because the banged up Vols don't have much to play for. Prior to the South Carolina game this year, Butch Jones had a stellar record against lackluster teams, dominating frisky out-of-conference opponents and the dregs of the SEC East. Post-South Carolina 2016, the Vols look vulnerable to any mediocre team that can ugly up the game and wait for Tennessee to make mistakes.
Now to Opposite George for the pick: "Get real, Tennessee fans. Vanderbilt football is a gold-plated turd floating in a diamond toilet bowl. Let's hope the suits in West End are dumb enough to give Derek Mason an extension for a win over tanking Ole Miss. The Vols turn over the Commodores' starting quarterback Joey Tries-Hard a couple of times and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig forgets he has Ralph "Two Yards and a Cloud of Dust" Webb sitting on the bench." Tennessee 28 Vanderbilt 10
Volundore (9-2 straight up, 4-7 against the spread): I am quite conflicted about this game, and it's not because of my split loyalties.
Last week, Vanderbilt looked the best they've looked in almost 3 years of Derek Mason. The week before, they lost to Missouri in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. Tennessee's offense has been on fire since the Calamity in Columbia, but it's had to be because the defense is, as Charles Barkley would say, turrible. Vanderbilt might already be in a bowl, but a non-APR bid is still available. Tennessee has lost the East, but could still make the Sugar Bowl.
So all in all...¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I think it'll be close, high scoring, and decided by something dumb. Tennessee 42 Vanderbilt 41
Justin (9-2 straight up, 3-8 against the spread): It isn't often your team dumps 63 points on a conference opponent and the fan base finds itself questioning whether the Vols can finish off a milquetoast Vanderbilt squad. Yet, here we are. Tennessee has the Sugar Bowl in sight even after the mid-season turbulence, and if this coaching staff cannot find a way to motivate Team 120 toward that end, then we have some serious problems on Rocky Top. I expect an ugly game closer to 2014 (rather than last year's blowout) with the Vols prevailing in the fourth quarter. Tennessee 31 Vanderbilt 27
Trey (8-3 straight up, 4-7 against the spread): The only thing I feel confident in saying about this game is that Ralph Webb is going to get a lot of yards. On the plus side, that and Tennessee's nonexistent red done defense should keep this game from falling into a 7-13 late-November turkey-bloat rut, which is where the real danger lies. I'll put my money on Dobbs, Malone and Kelly outscoring the Webbfense in another passed-out-under-the-pool-table slow-motion shootout. Tennessee 42 Vanderbilt 31
Rocky Top Talk Staff Average (9-2 straight up, 4-7 against the spread): Tennessee 38 Vanderbilt 30
Vegas: Tennessee -7.5. Over/under 54.5. Tennessee 31 Vanderbilt 23