Preview: Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt

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    Joshua Dobbs-1Tennessee (7-4) vs. Vanderbilt (4-7)

    Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET

    Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, Tenn.

    TV: SEC Network

    Series Record: Tennessee leads 74-30-5

     Setting the table

    It hasn’t always been pretty the last four weeks, but the Vols continue to find ways to win – putting them in a tie for the second-longest active winning streak in the SEC at the moment. The Vols will be playing to both extend that and to have their most wins since the 2007 season. Standing in their way is a pesky Vanderbilt team that has also shown improvement in 2015, but still shouldn’t be equipped to beat Tennessee on the road at this point. Recent history, however, shows that this should be a competitive contest. Vanderbilt won in both 2012 and 2013 and Tennessee hasn’t won by more than two scores in this series since 2006.

     Who has the edge

    When Tennessee throws…

    The passing game has been an adventure for much of the season. Injuries have certainly slowed Tennessee’s once-touted group of receivers, but it’s been a collective struggle to move the ball consistently through the air. The Vols had their lowest passing output since 2003 against Missouri – finishing with just 89 total yards through the air. Vanderbilt’s passing defense has been decent this year, giving up an average of 208.7 yards per game. Expect the Vols to hit some plays here and there, especially with Joshua Dobbs on the run, but it’s also difficult to imagine UT putting up huge passing numbers. Edge: Even

    When Tennessee runs…

    The Vols can run the ball on anybody. They’ve proven that time and time again this year. Facing a stout Missouri defense last week, Jalen Hurd went for a career high and the Vols finished with 248 yards on the ground. Like Missouri, Vanderbilt also has a fairly stout running defense, but that just hasn’t seemed to matter too much for Tennessee. Hurd, Dobbs and Alvin Kamara should have a great opportunity to put up 200+ total on the ground, and while it might not be easy overall, look for UT to move the ball with regularity in this area. Edge: Tennessee 

    When Vanderbilt throws…

    The Commodores have been extremely inept throwing the football this season. Look no further than last week against Texas A&M when starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw for just 12 yards in the shutout loss. They are last in the conference in both yards per completion (5.4) and yards per game through the air (168.5). Trent Sherfield has been a productive player at receiver, but outside of that, there’s isn’t much to fear for UT. The Vols might not be able to shut them down to the extent that A&M did last week, but it would be surprising to see Vanderbilt do any real damage in this area. Edge: Tennessee 

    When Vanderbilt runs…

    Ralph Webb gets overlooked in the SEC because the Commodores simply don’t have a lot around him. But he’s a 1,000-yard back who has run for at least 90 yards against Ole Miss, Florida and Missouri this year. If there’s a fear about this Vanderbilt offense, it’s that the talented sophomore back could get loose on a run or two and make things interesting. Tennessee has been decent against the run, giving up an average of 148 yards per game. Stopping Webb will be the most important task for the Vols’ defense on Saturday Edge: Slightly to Tennessee

    On special teams…

    The Vols have been elite on special teams for much of 2015. Aaron Medley, who could be called on often Saturday due to Vandy’s stingy red-zone defense, has hit seven of his last eight field goal attempts. Trevor Daniel has been solid all year and opponents have had to pick their poison in the return game – either kicking short or out of bounds, or risking a huge return by Cam Sutton or Evan Berry. The Commodores found out first-hand that kicking to Sutton might not be a great idea after he housed one in Nashville last year. Vandy’s kicking and coverage teams have been mediocre this year, so the Vols have a chance to generate field position and/or some big plays in this area. Edge: Tennessee 

     What Vanderbilt is thinking

    We’ve won two of the last three in this series and the days of Tennessee blowing us out are gone. Defensively, we can keep Tennessee under 21 points, so we just need to generate a few big plays and we’ll be right in this one. We’ve got very little to lose and have already shown improvement this year, so we’ll throw everything we have at UT just like we did last year, except this year we’ll come out with a victory and ruin Senior Day for the Vols.

     What Tennessee is thinking

    We’re finally learning how to win. And we won fairly comfortably against a team very similar to Vanderbilt on the road last week. We have a chance to be a hot bowl commodity, get the most wins we’ve had since 2007 and to send a group of seniors that have faced so much adversity out on a high note. We’re taking control of this Vanderbilt series back. Our defense will be dominant and we’re too good on the ground to be shutdown by anybody.

     What RTI is thinking

    This is a game Tennessee should win, there’s no way around that fact. Recent history says it will be close and we wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the game be contested into the fourth quarter. But the Vols have simply too much talent in this one. It won’t be a thing of beauty, but the Vols will run the Dobbs/Hurd/Kamara trio as much as they need to move the football enough to set up a couple touchdowns and then some field goals. That should be enough in this one.