For SEC games this season, Daniel Lewis will put together a blueprint for how Tennessee can have its best chance to knock off that week’s opponent. It’s written from a Tennessee coach’s mindset and isn’t necessarily representative of how RTI predicts the game to go.
Offense: Tennessee’s offense pretty much is what it is at this point in the season. The Vols are a high-level rushing team that can run the ball against anybody, but whether it be because of personnel issues, coaching, scheme, a lack of accuracy from Joshua Dobbs or any other factors, the Vols are more of a limited/situational passing team.
Butch Jones and Mike DeBord are going to want to address that in the offseason, but right now they should know their strengths and weaknesses and devise a game plan that uses what they have to get the win over a Vanderbilt team that has played some really good defense at times this year.
The Missouri game plan, while at times a bit boring and conservative, really worked for UT. A similar attack might be needed against Vanderbilt. In short, the Vols focused on the run, stayed in good down-and-distance situations, moved the sticks, protected the football and didn’t try to do too much. That might not be a championship-level plan the Vols want to get used to, but against these poor offenses, it gets the job done.
So look for a lot from the trio of Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and Joshua Dobbs on the ground. Tennessee should be looking for at least 200 rushing yards from them. Then UT needs to pick its spots through the air. Aim for about 25 passing attempts, preferably with most of them coming in good down-and-distance scenarios where Dobbs can move the pocket and throw on the run.
Have a few potential shot plays ready to go. Maybe a double pass or a fake screen-and-go. Something like that to try to sneak one or two over the top of the Vanderbilt defense. Field goals will be valuable in this game and UT shouldn’t feel much shame in trying a few against one of the best red-zone defenses in the conference, but the Vols will need to find the end zone at least once or twice as well to feel good about their chances to knock off the Commodores.
Twenty-two is the magic number for the Vols’ offense. Vanderbilt hasn’t scored more than 21 points against an FBS opponent all season. And the Commodores are only averaging 11.1 ppg in conference play this year, so a few scores should be enough for UT on Saturday. That doesn’t mean the Vols should let up or play for just a few scores, but realistically speaking, that’s what they need to get the W.
Defense: Level of competition has certainly played into it, but UT’s defense has been playing at a very high level recently. The Vols have given up a total of eight points over their last nine quarters. And while those opposing offenses were very poor, so is the one UT will be facing Saturday.
Tennessee has a good chance to keep producing defensive numbers like that against the Commodores. Vanderbilt has numerous issues on offense, and it starts with the fact that it’s one-dimensional. The Commodores are last in the SEC in passing offense, averaging just 168.5 yards per game through the air. Against Texas A&M last week, starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur was just 3-of-12 for 19 yards passing. Those numbers speak for themselves.
Running back Ralph Webb is a good SEC back, but without a passing game to supplement him or an elite offensive line, the amount of damage he can do is limited. He certainly has the capability to put up 100 yards on the Vols, but as long as none of his runs turn into huge scoring plays, Tennessee should be fine. Still, keying on Webb while keeping an extra pair of eyes on top receiver Trent Sherfield (45 receptions, 574, 2 TDs) should both be priorities for the defense. Simply put, nobody else on Vandy’s offense has shown the ability to really threaten a defense.
Vanderbilt has also been affected by poor performance in the red zone offensively. The Commodores have shown they can move the ball between the 20s in spurts this season, but haven’t consistently been able to capitalize. That means UT should remain poised if Vandy is able to put some drives together. Field-goal kicking hasn’t been great and the Commodores have a tendency to turn the ball over or find other ways not to score when in range. Expect them to get some opportunities, but UT should be able to limit the number of points those chances yield.
And in what could be a lower-scoring contest, special teams, in particular UT’s ability to break the big play in that area, could be a big factor. Cam Sutton took a punt back for a score in 2014 for Tennessee and Vandy has been mediocre-at-best in coverage this year on both punts and kickoffs. Whether the Commodores concede field position by kicking short or give Sutton and Evan Berry a chance in this game, the Vols need to take advantage to help the offense out as much as possible.