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RTI Game Predictions: Vanderbilt at Tennessee

Tennessee Football Running Back Jaylen Wright Runs Against Vanderbilt
Tennessee Football Running back Jaylen Wright. Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics.

Tennessee football returns to Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon for its regular season finale against in-state rival Vanderbilt. The Vols are 27-point favorites against the Commodores according to ESPN Bet.

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

We move on to Vanderbilt.
More From RTI: Complete Tennessee-Vanderbilt Preview

Jack Foster

This one is pretty straight forward. Vanderbilt is bad. They’re worse than they were last year. Granted, Tennessee is worse than they were last year, but don’t think 56-0 isn’t still on the table.

I’m curious to see how much, if any, playing time Nico Iamaleava gets at quarterback. We all know Tennessee could win this game without throwing a pass, but Iamaleava should get plenty of playing time before presumably starting the bowl game.

As far as how this game will actually play out on the field, Tennessee will run the ball at will. Jaylen Wright and Dylan Sampson will have massive games, and Wright will eclipse 1,000 yards on the season. On the other side, Vanderbilt will have some solid plays in the passing offense, but I expect it to be just a few plays.

It may lend to a touchdown. To be exact, I expect Vanderbilt to score one and a field goal. But this game will never be close, and Tennessee will lead wire-to-wire barring one of the aforementioned few explosive Vanderbilt plays happening on the opening drive.

The Vols improve to 8-4 with a blowout win on Senior Day in the regular season finale.

Prediction: Tennessee 45, Vanderbilt 10

Ric Butler

Can you believe the regular season is already over?!

I’ll be honest, I can. It’s felt like a long season compared to 2022 that went by in a flash. We’ve seen ups and downs from Tennessee this season, both on and off the field. The Vols’ uniform tribute to Condredge Holloway was a great moment this season, as was Tennessee’s win over Kentucky in a crucial SEC game in Lexington. That being said, though, there’s also been moments of struggle. Tennessee had trouble putting away Austin Peay early on and has really struggled against Missouri and Georgia these past two weeks. All that to say, it’s been a long season, and to me, it’s felt long. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to see the college season go away.

Fortunately, there’s still one more week of regular season games, including Vanderbilt at Tennessee. The two teams come into the game a combined 2-8 in their past five games with both of those wins coming from Tennessee’s side of things. Both teams are looking for a strong close to the season, but it’s Tennessee that has the much easier route.

This is a bounce-back opportunity for Tennessee to build some momentum heading into bowl season. While the last two games have presented challenges, this is a game for Tennessee to get the run game going just like last year’s contest against the ‘Dores. Tennessee blanked Vanderbilt last season in Nashville thanks to a whopping 362 yards on the ground – 291 combined yards from Jaylen Wright and Dylan Sampson. The same formula can be used for the game on Saturday.

Otherwise, to me, it’s just about making it to the finish line on a strong note. The Vols are mightily banged up right now but a convincing win over Vanderbilt can help stop the slide of the past two weeks. I’m rambling a bit because I don’t see a ton of need for analytical breakdowns and previews. It’s simple. Run the ball and take whatever wind is in Vanderbilt’s sails out early. Tennessee should cruise to a win. Will we see quarterback Nico Iamaleava in backup duties? We’ll have to wait to find out.

Prediction: Tennessee 41, Vanderbilt 10

Ryan Schumpert

Tennessee is limping to the finish line here in the regular season. The Vols lost their last two games in lopsided fashion and enter their regular season finale with a number of injuries to key starters. The good news: Vanderbilt is the perfect opponent to end the regular season the right way. The Commodores haven’t won a game since Sept. 2. Vanderbilt has lost nine straight games since then including all seven SEC games to date.

The key for Tennessee in this one is to be able to run the ball with ease. Tennessee is down at least one offensive line starter (Javontez Spraggins) and could be down two more (Gerald Mincey and John Campbell Jr.). But even if the Vols are down a number of starters, they should be able to be affective on the ground against the SEC’s worst run defense.

For as many deficiencies as Tennessee’s offense has, if they can line up and run right at you consistently then they’re in a spot where they will be successful. We’ve seen it in a handful of SEC games against better run defenses this season and I anticipate us seeing it again.

The real question for this game is how much time will we see Nico Iamaleava behind center? That adds importance to Tennessee getting out to a comfortable lead early. Nevertheless, the Vols get it done in this one.

Prediction: Tennessee 38, Vanderbilt 13

Matt Reed

To predict this game, I need to know where each team’s mentality is heading into Saturday. I am most curious about Vanderbilt. Did they use their bye week to focus on salvaging their season with a road upset, or do some Commodores already have eyes on the offseason? I think we will know fairly early on. Regardless, this is a game that Tennessee should win comfortably. I say “should” because there is some doubt here. Tennessee has not scored a second-half offensive touchdown in the majority of its conference games; Texas A&M, Alabama, Missouri and Georgia. The Vols’ offense has been absolutely anemic down the stretch in the SEC. Those defenses are all ranked in the top half of the SEC though. The Dawgs, Tide, and Aggies are the top three in that order. Vanderbilt is dead last in every defensive metric by a wide margin. Backups or not, Tennessee should be able to score 30+ on this team. Everybody else in the SEC has. Tennessee will do it mostly on the ground with 230+ rushing yards. I expect Joe Milton to have success throwing the ball, but it will mostly be a side dish on Saturday.

The question is then, can Vanderbilt move the ball against Tennessee? It is a Vanderbilt offense that is rushing for less than 90 yards per game in conference. I don’t expect them to eclipse that mark inside Neyland Stadium. The Commodores are not showing their hand at quarterback. There has not been a big difference between Ken Seals or AJ Swann this year though. Tennessee is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 69.4% of their passes in conference play. Will Sheppard is a very nice pass catcher for the Commodores. I already touched on Tennessee’s secondary. It is not a bunch playing with much confidence right now. I will not be surprised if Vanderbilt throws for 240+ yards against Tennessee. I expect Tennessee’s defense to make enough negative plays to counterbalance that success though. Vanderbilt leads the SEC with 19 turnovers on the year. Despite their recent struggles, I don’t see these Vols just mailing it in on Saturday. Josh Heupel’s teams don’t seem to play down to inferior opponents. More often they seem to thrash them.

Tennessee is 3-1 ATS this season when that number is 20+. The Vols faced Vanderbilt last year just a week after laying an egg against South Carolina. Tennessee beat Vanderbilt 56-0, doubling them up in total yardage. I am skeptical this year’s Tennessee offense will get to 50+ again, but I expect this game to be over by the fourth quarter. Tennessee takes out its frustration on Clark Lea’s bunch.

Prediction: Tennessee 42, Vanderbilt 17

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