It’s an over-simplification to say that Tennessee should beat Vanderbilt because of its win at Missouri last week, but when you take a close look at those teams, it’s a pretty logical conclusion. Vanderbilt will be starting a freshman quarterback that has been struggling. So did Missouri. Vanderbilt has a stingy defense. So did Missouri. The Commodores are, overall, fairly inept on offense. So were the Tigers.
So throw in the fact that UT is playing at home and without all the potential distractions that the Vols faced in Columbia, and it’s a very safe and logical pick to go with Tennessee this week.
It hasn’t always been pretty over the course of this four-game winning streak for the Vols, but Tennessee keeps pulling out victories. Regardless of level of competition, that’s not something UT has been able to do consistently in the past decade or so. That’s a nice step for the Vols.
And while I think Derek Mason has done some good things with this Vanderbilt team this year and deserves a third year to see if he can take the Commodores to the next level, UT has the talent, home-field and coaching edge in this one, in my opinion. That trio is rarely defeated. After motivation was a big question mark for me last week at Columbia, I think that swings in UT’s favor as well this week. The Vols are playing to send a group of seniors that have endured so much out with a win that would give the program its best season since 2007 and put Tennessee in strong position with bowl selections coming up.
The careers of the likes of Kyler Kerbyson, Brian Randolph and other seniors might not have gone exactly how they planned, but a win on Saturday, an eight-or-nine win season and a second-straight bowl appearance would send them out on solid footing that they can be proud of.
I think the matchups work out in UT’s favor overall, though I do have some concerns about the red zone for Tennessee. The Vols struggled to finish drives at Missouri last week, and Vandy is one of the best in the conference at preventing teams from scoring once they get inside the 20.
But even if the Vols do get stopped in the red zone consistently, field goals might be enough in this one, just as they were at Mizzou last week. The last four weeks tell me that this one will be a bit sloppy and the Vols might not roll the way some are hoping, but I think Tennessee takes care of business, gets to eight wins and sends the seniors out on a high note.
Pick: Tennessee 23-10
MVP: Tennesssee RB Jalen Hurd
I’m riding with the hot hand here. He had the best statistical game of the year against Missouri last week, and after missing most of the game against Vanderbilt, the team closest to his hometown of Hendersonville, last year with an injury, he should get his first full shot at the Commodores this year. Vanderbilt is fifth in the league in rushing defense, but Hurd has averaged 109 yards per game against the top four rushing defenses (Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Missouri) in the SEC, so it isn’t a stretch to think he can put up big numbers on Saturday.
This week poses a similar challenge as last – an opponent with a strong defense but sputtering offense stands between Tennessee and another victory. It wasn’t pretty last week against Missouri, but that game was never going to be pretty. The Volunteer defense got the job done and the Tennessee offense did enough for a comfortable road win against one of the league’s best defenses.
Look for another ugly outing this week. Derek Mason’s defense gave the Vols fits last year and it’s much better this season. Of course, the Vol offense is better, too. Tennessee ranked 11th in the SEC in total offense last season and they’re up to 7th this year. Despite Tennessee’s passing game struggles of late (it’s been 9+ quarters since the Vols have thrown for a touchdown), Hurd, Kamara and Dobbs have been able to get enough done on the ground to keep the Vols in the win column. No one has been able to completely stop Tennessee’s rushing attack this year and Vanderbilt simply isn’t likely to be the first.
The Vols should be able to win this one without looking great through the air. Vanderbilt’s offense is just that bad. Last week, the Commodores threw for 23 yards on 5/16 passing. You read that correctly. Their passing attack makes Tennessee’s look like the Greatest Show on Turf. There’s no doubt the Dores will be fired up and frustrate Tennessee’s offense, but they just don’t have the pieces to pull off an upset in Neyland.
Pick: Tennessee 27-9
MVP: Tennessee Running Back Jalen Hurd
My MVP pick last week against Missouri went off for a massive day. Let’s see if he can make it 2/2. Hurd never had a chance to get going against Vanderbilt last season due to an apparent head injury which sidelined him for most of the game. He has proven to be an absolute workhorse for the Vols this season and has been great against good rushing defenses. I’m expecting another 100 + yard day on the ground for Mr. Hurd and he’s likely to throw a few key catches in as well.