Tennessee heads to Nashville looking for its 10th win on the season and the program’s first 10 win season since 2007.
Each week, Rocky Top Insider will take you behind the scenes with a question and answer with a media member who covers Tennessee’s opponent.
This week, the Vanderbilt Huslter’s Andrew Wilf discussed Vanderbilt’s lat season turnaround, its uncertain quarterback situation and more.
*Some answers have been shortened or slightly altered for clarity.
Vanderbilt has flipped the switch the last two weeks defeating Kentucky and Florida. What’s changed for the Commodores the last two weeks?
I think it’s starting to see results come into fruition. If you flash back three weeks ago, Vanderbilt loses to South Carolina pretty mightily. That Friday before the game Vanderbilt’s defensive back coach Dan Jackson — it was released that he supported Kanye West’s anti Semitic rhetoric and his comments and social media outrage. He said it on a Facebook post and then ended up coaching on Saturday. There was so much turmoil. They lost to South Carolina which was the fifth straight loss on the season. They hadn’t won a SEC game since 2019 and everyone had checked out.
In the Kentucky game something switched. I think you have to give Mike Wright credit for how he’s run the offense. Mike brings a lot of fire. There hasn’t been a ton of film on him this season. AJ Swann is a freshman and to have a veteran presence at quarterback I think has really helped them. Running back Ray Davis has been playing great. 100-plus yards for the second straight week. He’s just shy of 1,000 yards on the season. The run attack has been solid this year and particularly strong the last two weeks.
Both Mike Wright and AJ Swann have played extensive snaps for Vanderbilt at quarterback this season. Who is expected to play Saturday and what are his strengths?
I’d assume Mike is going to get the start. He is the hot hand with two consecutive wins. It’s nothing against AJ but how can you take Mike Wright out? He’s played tremendous the last two weeks. You can’t ask anymore of him. I would argue he played well the first four games. He had a bad half against Wake Forest and lost his starting job after that because of AJ Swann’s emergence but I just don’t see them putting AJ Swann at quarterback one this week.
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What’s the strength and weakness of Vanderbilt’s defense?
The defense’s weakness is the secondary. I’ve believed that since before the season started. The edge defenders are getting better. I wouldn’t say that’s a strength but that was one of the biggest weaknesses before the season and that’s gotten better.
The strengths I would say are linebackers like Anfernee Orji and Ethan Barr. The two linebackers are the strength and the weakness is the secondary against passing offenses. Joe Milton has an arm. From what I’ve seen of him at Michigan and Tennessee he’s had some great throws. Granted, he hasn’t gotten much playing time against SEC opponents.
What’s a matchup/part of the game where you feel like Vanderbilt has an edge?
I think it’s Vanderbilt’s receivers on the perimeter. You look at Jayden McGowan— he’s a really fast freshman. I could see him beating Tennessee’s nickel corner (Tamarion McDonald). He’s a guy Vanderbilt likes to use on jet sweeps and motion plays.
Tennessee gave up 60-plus points against South Carolina and I know that was a little bit of a fluke game but I could see Ray Davis running over the Vols’ defense. I may be a little biased from his last two weeks but I feel really good about Vanderbilt’s rushing offense.
What’s a matchup/part of the game where you feel like Tennessee has an edge?
Vanderbilt’s right tackle Bradley Ashmore got injured last week against Florida. There’s been a lot of changes to Vanderbilt’s offensive line. There’s a new combination every week. They’ve honestly played extremely well given the lack of consistency but having a back up tackle is not idle. That is what’s good about Mike Wright. He can get out of the pocket and extend plays. Still, the matchup that worries me is Vanderbilt’s right tackle and pass protection as a whole.
Tennessee 34, Vanderbilt 21