Pick: I didn’t see this as a gimme game before the season. I thought Vanderbilt would take a step back, but I knew Tennessee would have its own issues and the Vols have lost two straight to the Commodores.
My view has changed since then to an extent. Gimme isn’t a fair word – that doesn’t really exist in the SEC. Vanderbilt has given a few teams somewhat of a battle. But this is about as close as it comes for Tennessee. Vanderbilt isn’t good – about every stat you can look at proves that.
They’re at or right near the bottom of every major statistical category in the conference. And when a team is a big underdog, one of the things they can do to make it a game is win the turnover margin. Vanderbilt is dead last (-15) in that area as well, so it’s hard to project the Commodores making it interesting via that route either.
My biggest question is what this game will look like. Anything other than a Tennessee win is a huge failure. So I’m assuming they get the W and if that doesn’t play out, I’ll have a whole other set of questions and issues. But assuming they do, is this a grind-it-out type of game or a name-your-score type of contest? Under Butch Jones the Vols have had some of both types of games against inferior opponents.
And in games under Jones where there’s been a must-win feel to them, the Vols have often played tight. I don’t think Vanderbilt has the talent or coaching to make the Vols pay if they do struggle at times, but the Commodores could certainly make the game closer than Tennessee would feel comfortable with.
On the other hand, Tennessee has also come out and taken care of business against inferior opponents such as Kentucky and Utah State this year. I could see the Vols jumping on top, Vanderbilt self-inflicting wounds and it getting out of hand pretty quickly.
But I think when the dust settles Saturday, we’ll see some of both aspects. I expect the Vols to be sloppy at times, but Vanderbilt will be as well and Tennessee’s talent gap will show as the afternoon goes on. There will be a few frustrating moments that remind fans that the Vols are still a work in progress and dealing with some adversity, but Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and others will also remind of UT’s bright future.
Pick: Tennessee 37-16
MVP: Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs
With the pocket regularly caving in around him, Dobbs still played a decent game against Missouri last weekend. His numbers weren’t the same as the astronomical ones he put up in the previous weeks. but he still threw for almost 200 yards and ran for about 50, though sack yardage ate into that total on the official stat sheet. He also did a decent job protecting the football. His one fumble was a freak incident where his lineman accidentally knocked it out with his knee and the interception was his receiver’s fault. I think Dobbs, with more room to operate this week, gets back to putting up huge numbers. I’ll say 275 yards passing, 60 rushing, multiple touchdowns and one or less turnovers. That should be enough for the Vols to get the win.
Pick: If there has ever been a riches-to-rags story like the Vanderbilt Commodores from 2013 to 2014, I’d be really interested in reading about it. This team won nine games last year, but has really struggled to muster up the three they are likely to finish with this season. They have had a rotating door at quarterback, they lack playmaking ability on both sides of the ball and are near the bottom of the league in almost every offensive and defensive statistical category. And some wondered how/why James Franklin could leave such a fine program?
Tennessee will win this game barring any monumental type of letdown, and that is really all there is to it. They are more talented on both sides of the ball, and will present Vanderbilt with numerous challenges due their athleticism. If the Vols can protect the football and not give up more than two special teams touchdowns, they’ll be just fine.
Defensively, Vanderbilt may have some extended drives that chew up a lot of clock, but their lack of explosion should allow Tennessee to settle down and dial in on what they’ll need to do to create stops and turnovers. Vanderbilt’s go-to players on offense are tight end Steven Scheu and running back Ralph Webb – and they are solid players – but neither should be able to do enough consistent damage to worry Tennessee in this game.
Offensively, I don’t quite see this as the walk-away that some are predicting. Vanderbilt’s defense is not good, so don’t hear me say that, but they are facing a Vol offense that is really banged up right now. Injuries at receiver, tight end, running back, and offensive line have really weakened this Tennessee attack. I think that inserting all of these new faces across every level of the offense will lead to some miscommunications and mistakes that may put an early end to some drives that would have otherwise been successful.
This may be a game for a quarter or two, but when the Vols figure things out they should be able to pull away fairly easily. Start making your bowl plans now, because the Vols are back….(in a bowl).
Pick: The team from the east 38-24
MVP: Tennessee Quarterback Joshua Dobbs
Last week, I said this regarding my MVP picks for the Vols: “It’s going to be hard for me to pick anybody other than Dobbs for the remainder os the season – and quite possibly the remainder of his career at Tennessee.”
I’m standing by it. When you look at all of the injuries at receiver and along the offensive line, it is just hard for me to predict one player at either running back or receiver that will be consistent enough to garner MVP honors in this game. So, I’m going to go with the guy who touches the ball on every play. I think Dobbs will have a few touchdown passes, a touchdown run and probably a long run (25-yards or more) or two to bail Tennessee out of some second or third-and-long situations. I think he’ll do a much better job of protecting the football this week – although both oh “his” turnovers last week were quite flukey – and spread the ball around enough to keep Vanderbilt of balance. And while I’m predicting a closer game than most, if Dobbs gets rolling like he did against Carolina and Kentucky, then Katy, bar the door.
This was my take on the game when I ranked Tennessee’s 2014 schedule from easiest to toughest prior to the season: A formidable foe under departed head coach James Franklin, the Commodores are set to fall back to earth this year. They’re the least talented SEC team Tennessee plays according to Dave’s rankings and must replace nearly half of their defensive production and the majority of their offensive production this season. This is the first road game on the list…but does it truly count as a road game if you have more fans in attendance than the home team? Either way, the Vols have a good chance to end their losing streak to Vandy this fall.
I’d like to apologize for classifying Tennessee’s shot at a victory as “good” instead of “all but guaranteed” prior to the season. The Commodores are terrible, perhaps historically so, and the Vols should put at Kentucky-like beatdown on them.
Look for Dobbs and Hurd to have a big day, especially on the ground. The Vols could be without three of their top six receivers and Vandy’s rushing defense is Kentucky-escque – Tennessee should pound the rock.
Defensively, the Vols completely outclass the Commodore offense. Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt should feast on a Vandy offensive line that ranks 13th in sacks allowed in the conference. Tennessee decisively lost the battle at the line of scrimmage last week, look for UT to decisively win that battle this week.
No need for advanced analysis. Vanderbilt is a team Tennessee should easily handle.
Pick: Volunteers 42-17
MVP: Vol Quarterback Joshua Dobbs
Dobbs wasn’t great last week, but actually played fairly well considering 1. He was running for his life. 2. His receivers dropped a ton of passes. Fortunately for Astro Dobbs, Vanderbilt doesn’t have the speed along their defensive front to make his day miserable. He should put up over 300 yards of offense with ease and head into bowl season with some confidence.