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RTI Game Predictions: Tennessee Looking To Close Regular Season Strong At Vanderbilt

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee is looking to bounce back from last week’s disappointing loss at South Carolina strong as they conclude the regular season at Vanderbilt.

Each week, the RTI team will provide game predictions for Tennessee’s weekly opponent.

We move on to Vanderbilt.

Ric Butler

Certainly not the game that I thought I was going to be picking just a few weeks back. Heck, that’s true just going back a week ago when I wrote the South Carolina prediction… but let’s not pay that one any attention. We’re on to the final game of the season against in-state rival Vanderbilt. The first thing that I think is necessary to talk about is what’s at stake considering both teams do have something to play for. On Tennessee’s side, the Vols desperately need a strong close to the season after suffering through adversity the last few weeks. A solid win would pretty much guarantee a NY6 bowl for Tennessee, likely the Cotton Bowl. On the other hand, though, Vanderbilt is fighting for a chance just to go to a bowl. Not to mention that a season in which Vanderbilt defeated Kentucky, Florida, and a previously No. 1-ranked Tennessee team would go down in the history books, like, forever.

There are two things to approach on the Tennessee side of things. Quarterback Joe Milton will close down the regular season in his first start of the season. I think it’s important to get Milton settled in quickly, just from that simple fact alone. The veteran quarterback has been with the program for two years which clearly helps with familiarity in terms of scheme and teammates, but the Vols will benefit from finding ways to get Milton in a groove early.

The other important thing, which somehow isn’t coming up until my third paragraph, is Tennessee’s defense. After a disappointing showing against South Carolina in Columbia, how are the Vols going to respond? Tennessee players said all week that the focus and execution weren’t there against the Gamecocks. We’ll see if those two things can turn around against a surging Vanderbilt team.

This almost feels like a must-win team for both. For Vanderbilt, it’s about extending the season in the previously thought of most unlikely of ways. For Tennessee, it’s about saving the season from three losses in the last four games. Should be quite the show in the Music City.

Prediction: Tennessee 35, Vanderbilt 27

Ryan Schumpert

This week prevents quite the challenge for Josh Heupel. A challenge that did not seem apparent three weeks ago or even a week ago. The Commodores have turned their season around with back-to-back SEC wins and can punch their ticket to a bowl game with a win. Vanderbilt with be highly motivated and highly confident coming into this game. On the other side you have a Tennessee team that is playing for significantly less than they were a week ago. The Vols’ College Football Playoff hopes are dead and while the team admitted there’s still plenty to play for this week, it’s hard to imagine the juice being the same.

That’s all on top of the fact that Tennessee is playing its back up quarterback Joe Milton III. Hendon Hooker’s season is over after tearing his ACL last week and now Milton gets an audition to prove himself before an offseason quarterback battle. We’ve seen flashes from Milton this season but playing a full game will truly tell us how much the Michigan transfer has grown in the last 15 months. If this season across the SEC has proved anything it’s that winning with a back up quarterback is hard.

On top of all that, there’s rain in the forecast for Saturday night in Nashville. Needless to say, I think this is a challenging game for Tennessee despite the Vols being 14-point favorites. Still, I think Tennessee has an advantage on both lines of scrimmage which should be huge if the weather projections hold up. One thing I’ll be curious to see is how much Josh Heupel runs Milton with third string quarterback Tayven Jackson unavailable. Milton’s legs could be a great weapon in this game. I don’t think Tennessee will be timid calling quarterback run plays and I think the Vols do enough to reach their 10th win of the season

Prediction: Tennessee 31, Vanderbilt 24

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