Prediction Panel: Tennessee at Vanderbilt

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    Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tennessee Athletics

    The RTI team makes their picks for the Vols’ match-up with the Vanderbilt Commodores this upcoming Saturday. Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford, staff writer Ben McKee, and contributor Charley Collier all share their predictions for this Saturday’s contest.

    Nathanael’s Pick

    This game concerns me for a number of reasons. I look at Vanderbilt’s roster and what they’ve done this season, and I feel like this could be another West Virginia or Missouri-type match-up for Tennessee. Vandy isn’t as good of an overall team as those two schools, but they have an offense led by an experienced quarterback who has torched the Vols in the past, and their run game is extremely potent.

    Kyle Shurmur has played his brains out against Tennessee in the past. He’s thrown for 908 yards, nine touchdowns, and two interceptions against the Vols in his career, and he’s been more efficient this season than he has at any point in his career. He’s tossed 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions on the year, and he has a great duo of Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney to throw to. CJ Bolar has also emerged as a play-maker in the passing game as of late.

    But it’s not just Vandy’s passing attack that has me worried. They have a legit star at running back too.

    Ke’Shawn Vaugn has run for nearly 500 total yards and five touchdowns in Vanderbilt’s last three games. He leads the SEC with a 7.1 yard per carry average, and he can be dangerous as a pass catcher too, totaling 137 yards and two touchdowns on 11 receptions.

    Vanderbilt has been awful in the red zone, scoring an SEC-worst 73.8 percent of the time they’ve made it inside the 20. But Tennessee has the worst red zone defense in the SEC, giving up a score 92.5 percent of the time an opponent gets into the red zone.

    Luckily for the Vols, Vandy’s defense isn’t good. They’re in the bottom half of the SEC in total defense, scoring defense, passing defense, and rushing defense. But there’s one thing they do well, and that’s force turnovers.

    The Commodores are tied with Alabama and Auburn for the third-most takeaways in the SEC this season, forcing 20 turnovers in 11 games.

    Tennessee has been highly inconsistent this season, and if they follow the pattern they’ve established so far this year, they should play much better this Saturday compared to their 50-17 loss to Missouri last weekend.

    But a better performance doesn’t always equal a win, and with a banged up trio on offense of Jarrett Guarantano, Marquez Callaway, and Ty Chandler, I don’t think the Vols will be able to keep up with what Vandy can do on offense.

    I’ve looked around the Knoxville media at all the other major outlets who cover the Vols, and I feel like the only person about to make the pick that I am. And it’ll mean UT won’t be in a bowl game for the second straight year if I’m right.

    Pick: Vanderbilt, 34-24

    MVP: Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt RB

    Though Kyle Shurmur has torched the Vols every year he’s played them, I think this year will be marked by what Ke’Shawn Vaughn does on the ground. Tennessee’s run defense has been better this year compared to last season, but they’ve still been gashed more often than not in SEC play. The Vols have allowed 200 or more rushing yards to SEC opponents in five of their seven conference games. Vaughn has been on fire lately, and I don’t think Tennessee can put out that inferno.

    Ben’s Pick

    The only thing that would surprise me in this football game is if one team blows out the other. It wouldn’t surprise me if Tennessee won, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Vanderbilt won. At the end of the day, though, I do believe the Commodores are a better team from top to bottom.

    What concerns me is Tennessee’s ability to stop Vanderbilt’s rushing attack. Two of the last three games have resulted in record-setting performances for Ke’Shawn Vaughn. It’s not just Vaughn that Tennessee has to take into account; Jamauri Wakefield and Khari Blasingame have also been very productive this season, combining for over 600 yards on the ground.

    The rushing attack isn’t the only aspect of Vanderbilt’s offense I’m worried about from a Tennessee perspective, though. Kyle Shurmur has looked like a Hesiman winner the last couple of seasons against the Vols, and as a senior, he’s having the best year of his career. With Jared Pinkney at tight end and Kalija Lipscomb at receiver — two of the most productive weapons in the country — Vanderbilt’s offense is very two-dimensional.

    Vandy’s defense, on the other hand, isn’t as productive. Therefore, Tennessee will have plenty of chances on offense to keep up with the Commodore’s offense. But the O-line is going to have to step up and play much better. If Tennessee can run the ball and the defense can slow down Vandy’s rushing attack, the Vols will win this game. I just don’t trust Tennessee’s O-line or secondary at this time.

    Pick: Vanderbilt, 28-27

    MVP: Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt WR

    Tennessee’s secondary has struggled as a whole all season long. Lipscomb is the most underrated receiver in the SEC and is Shurmur’s favorite target on the perimeter. If he wasn’t at Vanderbilt, he’d be in the talks as one of the conference’s best.

    Charley’s Pick 

    What do you get when the two most inconsistent teams in the SEC play each other on Rivalry Week, with the winner heading to a bowl? Well, my guess is as good as yours, but I feel like it’s going to be a victory for the Vols. Tennessee has not lost three straight games to Vanderbilt since 1926, and I doubt they’ll even be in a position to do that again in the next 20 years.

    Both teams have the same record, and Vandy has more experience. However, the Vols have more talent, better coaches, and a stronger record. The two teams are pretty evenly matched in almost every facet of the game. After last week’s embarrassment, I expect to see the Tennessee team we saw beat Kentucky a few weeks ago.

    There will be plenty of opportunities for Tennessee to move the ball. Vanderbilt’s run defense gives up an average of nearly 200 yards a game. The Vols haven’t been able to run the ball for most of the season, but when they have, their offense has been very successful as a result. Ty Chandler is an explosive player, and if given any room to run at all, he can make big plays happen. He is going to have a big day Saturday, and the ground game will open up the rest of the offense.

    The Dores give up, in total, 436 yards a game, with the other 240 yards coming through the air. The Vanderbilt secondary has been inconsistent despite having future NFL corner Joejuan Williams. Williams may give Callaway some troubles, but Tennessee should have an advantage in match-ups with the rest of the Vandy secondary.

    This game could turn into a shootout of sorts. Vanderbilt has given up 31.7 points per game in SEC play, and Saturday shouldn’t be any different.

    Tennessee may score a lot on Saturday, but they could very well give up a lot too. Vanderbilt can run the ball well, with Ke’Shawn Vaughn nearing 1,000 yards rushing on the season. The Vols can’t sell out on the run though, because quarterback Kyle Schumer will make them pay, and Vandy has a receiver in Kalija Lipscomb that can cause problems for just about any team in the country. Tennessee will need a great defensive effort in this one to give the offense a chance to win.

    These two teams are very evenly matched, but Tennessee is just a little bit better, and they are better coached. Because of this, they will win a close game and make a bowl game. This will be huge for this program as they can really use those extra practices, and it gives them a lot of momentum heading into 2019.

    I look forward to bringing you one more prediction panel for the Vols’ bowl game.  

    Pick:  Tennessee, 37-33

    MVP: Ty Chandler, Tennessee RB

    Chandler has been one of the most talented play-makers on the team all season long, but rarely has he been given the chance to shine because of the lackluster offensive line play. Vandy doesn’t have the run defense that most SEC schools do, so there will be opportunities to run Saturday. Chandler will have at least 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and he will be instrumental in a Volunteer victory.