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Prediction Panel: Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt

Nathanael’s Pick

Neither of these teams are good. At all. But this game is so hard to predict because each team’s strengths match-up with each other as do each team’s weaknesses.

Vanderbilt has the third-best passing offense in the SEC. But Tennessee has the best passing defense in the conference (though that’s skewed a little since they’ve also had the fewest passes attempted against them). Vanderbilt has the worst rushing attack in the SEC. But the Vols have the worst run defense in the conference.

See what I mean?

Both teams turn the ball over a decent amount, (Vandy has 14 turnovers, Tennessee has 17), neither team scores in SEC play (Vols average 12.7 points per game in conference games, Vandy averages 19.7), and neither team scores in the red zone effectively (Vandy has an 83.9 scoring percentage, Vols have a 78.1 scoring percentage).

When two bad teams play each other, you typically side with history or the team with more overall talent. But thanks to injuries and other attrition, I’m not sure how much of a talent edge the Vols actually have in this game.

Tennessee likely will be playing four true or redshirt freshmen along the offensive line in this game. They may even have to play a walk-on like they did against LSU last week. There’s also the question of how the team responds to this game being meaningless in terms of postseason play and how they react to the dismissal of Jauan Jennings.

Neither team is good. At all. But as bad as Vandy’s rushing offense has been, Tennessee has made every Power Five school’s rushing attack look good this season. The Commodores are healthier, but the Vols have given up slightly fewer big plays on defense.

If Tennessee’s offensive line was slightly more healthy, they should be able to pull this one out and win by a couple scores. But their line isn’t healthy at all, and we don’t know how healthy Jarrett Guarantano or Will McBride are at quarterback either.

Given all that…I think Vanderbilt beats Tennessee for the second straight year.

Pick: Vanderbilt 18-13

MVP: Ralph Webb, RB

Running back Ralph Webb came back for his senior year because he wanted to help Vanderbilt have a successful season and to build on his impressive resume. He may be regretting his decision, however, as he’s having easily the worst season of his college career. But the Vols have allowed every Power Five team to average at least 4.7 yards per carry against them. Six of the eight Power Five teams they’ve faced have averaged over five yards per carry. Expect Webb to have one of his better games of the season.

Will’s Pick

The Vols are going to finally figure things out in their final game. And on Senior Night in Neyland Stadium, I think UT is playing with extra motivation in its final contest of the season.

Vanderbilt’s defense has been abysmal. And offensively all they have is Ralph Webb to run the ball. Kyle Shurmur has been terrible over the past few games. And the Vols’ improved secondary may be able to pick off the injury prone QB.

If Tennessee wins the turnover battle, it could win by two-plus scores.

The only concern is UT’s ability to stop Webb playing in his final game. He’ll keep things close if Shurmur doesn’t give the ball away.

Pick: Tennessee 28-16

MVP: John Kelly, RB

Vanderbilt has one of the worst defenses in power five conferences. And even if it stacks the box against Tennessee’s talented running back, Kelly can still have a big day.

I expect Kelly to rush for 100+ yards and have a touchdown in the passing game as well.

After a long season, this could be a therapeutic game for Tennessee fans. Kelly’s ability so wear down the Dores’ defense will be the difference.

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