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Opponent Preview: Vanderbilt Commodores

(Photo via Randy Sartin/USA TODAY Sports)

Record: 5-6 overall, 2-5 SEC
Head Coach: Derek Mason, 5th year (23-37 overall)
Location: Nashville, Tennessee

Leading Passer: Kyle Shurmur (Sr.) — 205-of-334, 2,477 yards 20 TDs, 6 INTs
Leading Rusher: Ke’Shawn Vaughn (RS Jr.) — 138 carries, 976 yards, 10 TDs
Leading Receiver: Kalija Lipscomb (Jr.) — 73 receptions, 800 yards, 9 TDs
Leading Tackler: Jordan Griffin (SR.) — 106 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, sack, INT, 5 passes defended, FF, 2 fumble recoveries

Don’t let the record fool you; Vanderbilt is actually a pretty decent football team that has more than enough offensive firepower to make Tennessee pay on Saturday.

The Commodores are led by senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur — who is enjoying the best season of his career thus far from an efficiency standpoint. And he’s been money against Tennessee. In his career against the Vols, Shurmur has thrown for 908 yards, nine touchdowns, and just two interceptions. The only team he’s thrown for more yards against in his career is Missouri (938), and his nine touchdowns against UT are the most he’s thrown against a single opponent in his career.

Unfortunately for Tennessee, the bad news doesn’t stop with Shurmur on Vanderbilt’s offense, though.

Illinois transfer Ke’Shawn Vaughn has been red hot lately. He’s eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in three straight games and has totaled 481 rushing yards and five touchdowns in Vanderbilt’s last three games. He leads the SEC among qualifying running backs in yards per carry, and he’s averaging the third-most rushing yards per game among SEC running backs.

Backing up Vaughn is a capable duo of Jamauri Wakefield and Khari Blasingame. Those two backs have combined to run for 665 yards and four scores on 147 carries.

In the passing game, Shurmur has a number of weapons to throw to. Kalija Lipscomb is Shurmur’s favorite target, hauling in 73 receptions for 800 yards and nine touchdowns this season. His 73 receptions are the second-most in the SEC, as are his nine receiving scores. He’s fourth in the conference in receiving yards.

Shurmur’s second favorite player to pass the ball to is tight end Jared Pinkney. The junior tight end is one of the best players at his position in the country, and he’s second on the Commodores’ team in every major receiving category, bringing down 41 catches for 658 yards and six touchdowns.

Another name to watch on offense for Vanderbilt is freshman receiver C.J. Bolar. The 6-foot-3 receiver has 25 catches for 304 yards and two touchdowns on the season, but he’s become a more integral part of the offense recently. In Vanderbilt’s first four games of the season, Bolar had just four receptions. He’s pulled down 21 catches over the last seven contests, however, and both of his touchdowns have come in the last four weeks of play.

Vanderbilt’s offense may be good at gaining a lot of yards, but they’ve struggled to put up a lot of points this season.

The Commodores are averaging nearly 400 yards of offense per game (391.5), but they’re only scoring 26.7 points a contest. A lot of that has to do with Vanderbilt’s struggles in the red zone. Vandy is the worst red zone offense in the SEC, scoring on just 73.8 percent of their red zone possessions. They’ve also been pretty bad on third down, converting just 34.8 percent of their third down attempts — the third-worst percentage in the conference.

For some more good news, Vol fans just need to look on the other side of the ball for Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt’s defense has been mediocre at best for most of this season in SEC play. The Commodores are 13th in total defense and run defense, 10th in passing defense, and ninth in scoring defense. They’re also 13th in the conference in sacks and tackles for loss.

The Commodores will give up a lot of yards and will let teams score some points on them, but they’re actually one of the best teams in the SEC at forcing turnovers.

On the season, Vanderbilt has taken the ball away 20 times from their opponents. That’s tied with Alabama and Auburn for the third-most in the SEC. They also don’t give the ball away a ton on offense, only turning it over 13 times. Their plus-seven turnover margin is tied with Florida for the fifth-best in the conference.

Vanderbilt isn’t a great team, but they aren’t bad either. Aside from their games against South Carolina and Georgia, the Commodores have been close against all their SEC foes in the fourth quarter, and they’ve picked up a 45-31 win over Arkansas and a gritty 36-29 overtime victory over Ole Miss last weekend.

But the Commodores are winless against SEC East competition this season, and the Vols will look to keep that streak going on Saturday. If they can’t, then Vanderbilt will have beaten Tennessee five out of the last seven times the two schools have played.

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