Opponent Preview: Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    Record: 4-7 (0-7)
    Conference: SEC
    Head Coach: Derek Mason, 4th year (17-31 overall)
    Location: Nashville, TN

    Leading Passer: Kyle Shurmur — 200-of-349, 2,540 yards, 22 TD, 10 INT
    Leading Rusher: Ralph Webb — 167 carries, 668 yards, 8 TD
    Leading Receiver: Trent Sherfield — 44 receptions, 648 yards, 3 TD

    Vanderbilt is possibly the only team that’s been worse than the Vols in the SEC this year. But as bad as they are, they still pose a threat, especially on offense.

    The Commodores were known for their stingy defense under Derek Mason the past few years, but this season has seen that change. Vanderbilt is in the bottom half of the conference in scoring defense, rush defense, and total defense. Their best ranking is their pass defense which is smack dab in the middle of the SEC at 7th overall.

    Vanderbilt’s defense has been leaky all season in SEC play. And that’s part of the reason they have yet to win a game in conference play.

    The Commodores have allowed 200 or more rushing yards in all but one of their seven SEC games this season. And that game was last week’s match-up against Missouri. But the Tigers nearly eclipsed that mark as well, totaling 191 yards on the ground. Vanderbilt has twice given up 400 or more rushing yards to conference opponents, allowing 496 yards to Alabama and 423 yards to Georgia.

    Those numbers make Tennessee’s 272 rushing yards allowed to the Tide and 294 yards to the Bulldogs seem minuscule.

    Vanderbilt has allowed 34 or more points in every single one of their conference games this season. They’ve been outscored by an average of 46 points to 19.7 points in conference play.

    In short, Vanderbilt’s defense has been atrocious in conference play this year. But they’re about to play the worst offense they’ve seen all season in SEC play.

    The Vols are averaging just 19.5 points per game, the lowest in the SEC. Their 295.9 yards of offense per game is also the lowest in the conference. The second-lowest total? That would be Vanderbilt. But the Commodores are averaging nearly 40 more yards per game than Tennessee (334.5) and over a field goal more per contest (23.5) than the Vols.

    Vanderbilt isn’t good. But Tennessee might be worse.

    Tennessee’s defense has at least been less messy than last year, though they’ve still given up their fair share of big plays. But Vanderbilt’s strengths may play into Tennessee’s strengths.

    The Vols haven’t been tested a great deal through the air this year, but they have been able to mostly contain passing attacks when asked to. Vanderbilt has the third-best passing offense in the SEC when it comes to yards per game, and Kyle Shurmur has the second-most passing touchdowns and yards in the SEC. The Vols already faced the top quarterback in those two categories when they took on Drew Lock, and he was held in check till Tennessee’s defense wore down in the second half because of the offense getting bogged down.

    Vanderbilt ran the ball effectively a year ago. Now they have the worst rushing offense in the SEC, averaging just 94.5 yards a game. But if there’s one thing Tennessee’s defense does, it’s allow big plays in the run game. The Vols have the worst run defense in the SEC and have given up 25 rushes of 20 or more yards this season. That’s the second-most in the conference.

    This game promises to be an ugly contest between two offenses who have been mistake-prone all season. Vanderbilt has given up the ball 14 times this season, and Tennessee has turned the ball over 17 times. The Commodores have the players to rip off some big plays on offense, and their defense will be facing a beat up Tennessee offense.

    Whichever team looks the least ugly will win this game. But Vanderbilt has yet to prove they can look anything but incompetent in SEC play so far this season.



    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.