Tennessee is looking for win No. 10 again on Saturday, also looking to put the South Carolina debacle behind them. The Volunteers blew it last week — there’s no way around it. To make matters worse, Hendon Hooker was lost for the season with a torn ACL late.
Now Josh Heupel has to keep this team together and find a win against a surging Vanderbilt team. Out of nowhere, the Commodores have won two straight SEC games against Kentucky and Florida. They’re now just one win away from bowl eligibility, giving them all the motivation in the world to give Tennessee their best shot.
Can Joe Milton lead the Vols to a win? We all think it’s going to be a very uneasy night in Nashville.
Terry: Tennessee 34, Vanderbilt 30
No Hendon Hooker, no playoff hopes and a Jeremy Banks distraction — plus a suddenly hot Vanderbilt team looking for bowl eligibility? What seemed impossible just a week ago now seems like a legitimate possibility.
Josh Heupel can’t let this group pull a 2016. Tennessee still has a New Year’s Six bowl bid to play for, which would still be a great way to cap off a wildly successful season. Hooker, who blew out his knee last week, has stuck around the team this week and will reportedly travel with the team this weekend. He won’t be able to help on the field, but his presence will certainly offer some leadership in a tricky spot.
High-variance passer Joe Milton gets the ball on Saturday night. He’s fully capable of beating Vanderbilt by 40 points, or losing by 20 points. Heupel and Golesh are hoping that those strides we’ve seen him make in garbage time are real.
I think this one is highly uncomfortable for most of the night, but Tennessee finds a way.
Clint: Vanderbilt 38, Tennessee 31.
I’m sorry. I just can’t pick Tennessee after last week’s debacle.
We know Joe Milton is going to start. While it’s not ideal, the coaches will hopefully try and build a game plan that highlights his strengths (read options, shorter routes) and mitigates his weaknesses (passes that require anything other than an upper 90s fastball). It won’t look great, but I think that Tennessee will still move the ball on a Vanderbilt defense that hasn’t fared well against the better offenses on their schedule. A Milton-led Tennessee offense is roughly equivalent to the current Florida offense with Richardson. That Florida offense moved the ball on Vanderbilt, they just had some bad turnover luck.
I don’t think I trust a single thing about this defense after last week. I guess the defensive front could have a bounce back of sorts—but this secondary might make it irrelevant. These corners and safeties have been completely exposed. Absolutely no one is scared of them. If Vanderbilt is willing, they can just pass as much as their quarterback’s arm will allow.
Add in the weird vibes coming out about the locker room situation and potential riffs between players, and I can’t buy Tennessee right now.
If you want any solace: much like Tennessee’s defense, my predictions are fading to end the season. I’ve been very wrong the past 3 weeks after a pretty good start to the season.
Nick: Tennessee 34, Vanderbilt 27
I’m hoping the Vols get back on track this week, but last week was horrible enough on its own before you add in the injury to Hendon Hooker.
Nobody knows what to expect from Joe Milton, even though he’s looked improved this season in his mop-up duties. Lean on the run game, and let Milton take his shots downfield.
The defense doesn’t do anything well in space. There’s nothing more that can be done about that right now. It just is what it is.
But this team’s identity is on offense. And if that unit — without its leader and Heisman candidate in Hooker — can do its job, then Tennessee gets back on the path to resurrecting this season.
Matthew: Tennessee 37, Vanderbilt 27
The Vols get their first 10-win season since 2007, but it won’t be easy.
Vandy is on fire right now, and Tennessee is going to be without Hendon Hooker. I trust Joe Milton can get the job done, but I don’t think this offense will be its same, high-octane self, and this defense is hemorrhaging yards and points at an obscene rate right now.
It’s going to be closer than it should be, and a late turnover likely seals this up for the Vols, but I simply think that’s where we’re at with this team now.