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Tennessee Football Opponent Preview: Vanderbilt Commodores

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Tennessee looking to avoid historic low on Saturday

Tennessee v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

In the nearly 130 years of Tennessee football, the Vols have never lost eight games in one season — an impressive feat, shared only with the Ohio State football program. On Saturday, that will be on the line as Tennessee will host in state rival Vanderbilt at Neyland Stadium.

Both teams will enter Saturday’s match up out of bowl contention, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to play for, for either team. Last season the Commodores edged the Vols, 45-34 in Nashville, a loss that kept Tennessee from a rematch with Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Certainly there will be players on Tennessee’s roster looking for revenge on their in-state foe, while many Vanderbilt players would love to end the season with a rare win in Neyland Stadium.

Overview

Vanderbilt got off to a hot start in 2017, going 3-0, including a win over then-ranked Kansas State at home. All of the expectations and joy that came with an undefeated start to the season officially ended before October in the form of a 59-0 route by Alabama in Nashville.

Since that match up, the Commodores have gone an unimpressive 1-6, that one win coming against Western Kentucky. Still, Vanderbilt has won three of the last five meetings in a rivalry that has been historically lopsided in Tennessee’s favor. There is no doubt they have a shot at another win in Knoxville on Saturday.

Last Game

In their last outing, Vanderbilt was trounced, 45-17 to Missouri at home.

In the loss, the Commodores defense gave up 430 yards. This has been common theme of the 2017 Vanderbilt football team, which comes as a surprise due to Derek Mason’s defensive background.

While a glance at the final score indicates an absolute blowout, a closer look will reveal the production by the Commodores offense. Kyle Shurmur actually out passed Drew Locke, going 28 for 52 with nearly 350 yards through the air. Vanderbilt also won the time of possession battle, and had more first downs than Missouri.

The difference in the game was Missouri’s ability to keep Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb in check, as well as force three turnovers. Still, this is a Vanderbilt team that as the ability to put up big numbers and if they can find the endzone, it could be a long day for the Tennessee defense.

Impact Players

QB Kyle Shurmur - How could Vols fans forget this name? The junior had a filed day in his last showing against Tennessee, putting 416 yards and a pair of touchdowns in their upset win last season. Statistically, he’s having a better season than last year, throwing for 2,540 yards and 22 touchdowns for the year.

RB Ralph Webb - Perhaps the biggest key to beating Vanderbilt on Saturday will be slowing down their top running back in senior Ralph Webb. Last week, he was held to a total of 55 yards on 19 carries versus Missouri. On the season he’s rushed for 668 total yards with only 8 touchdowns. A far cry from the previous two seasons where he rushed for over a 1,000 yards in each. Still, he’s a valuable weapon and one the Vols will need to slow down to have a chance to win.

Game Outlook

With the game being played in Knoxville, Tennessee will enter the game as a one point favorite. The ESPN Football Power Index gives the Vols a 69% chance to win to Vanderbilt’s 31%.

Despite a 30-10 loss to LSU last week, the Vols came out swinging in their first game of the post Butch Jones era and had it not been for some nasty weather, the game could have been closer. While Tennessee has plenty to player for in this game, the added drama of the sudden departure of Jujuan Jennings on Wednesday could serve as a distraction.

Still, there is plenty of motivation for Tennessee to end the season on a much needed high note before the new coaching staff comes in. And for the first time in a while this season, this is a very winnable game for team 121.