Tennessee (6-5) will host Vanderbilt (3-8) for its last game of the regular season at 4 PM EST on Saturday on the SEC Network. Tennessee looks to improve its post-season stock with a win and earn a trip to the Sunshine State. The Commodores come in looking to play spoiler and give their head coach, Derek Mason, a major boost with a win over Tennessee.
On paper, Tennessee should have no issues beating Vanderbilt to get to 7-5, but that is not how this series has played out lately. The Commodores have some weapons that could prove troublesome for the Vols.
It starts in the backfield with Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Despite a treacherous season for Derek Mason and company, Vaughn has still managed to rush for over 1000 yards. He comes into the contest averaging 5.3 yards per carry with 9 touchdowns. Vaughn is also the third leading receiver on the team with almost 300 yards out of the backfield. He trails leading WR Kalija Lipscomb by less than 200 yards. For Tennessee to shut down Vanderbilt, it starts with stopping Vaughn. This team lives and dies with him.
Kalija Lipscomb is the lead guy on the edge for the Commodores. He has 42 catches for 462 yards and 2 touchdowns. If Vanderbilt has to go to the air, quarterback Riley Neal will be looking in the direction of Lipscomb. The Vols match up well against the Commodores on the edge, which will allow them to sell out on the run to stop Vaughn. It is worth noting that Lipscomb is listed as questionable against the Vols on Saturday.
The biggest difference in this game comes at the Quarterback position. Tennessee has had its season ended in ugly fashion by Vanderbilt the last two seasons, in large, because of Kyle Shurmur's play at the Quarterback position. In 2017 and 2018, Shurmur went a combined 51/66 for 650 yards and 7 touchdowns and zero interceptions against Tennessee. Coming into this game, Riley Neal only has 1446 yards and 8 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. This is where Tennessee has to make their breaks. They have to get the Vanderbilt signal-caller behind the chains and make him beat them. If Tennessee does this, Vols fans will more than likely be in for a fun Saturday.
Defensively, Vanderbilt is led by Sophomore linebacker Dimitri Moore who has 88 tackles on the season with 6 tackles for loss. The Vols will look to establish their running game more during this contest, so they will have to have success blocking more to do so. Tennessee will likely try to control the linebacker's tempo by stretching him sideline to sideline early, and then run between the tackles.
Last week, I said that Tennessee had to avoid a slow start on the road in Columbia. They did not avoid it, but they overcame it. With guys like Jauan Jennings, Daniel Bituli, Nigel Warrior, Marquez Calloway, and others running through the Power T for the final time, I do not think Tennessee will have to worry about a slow start. The one thing the Vols cannot do is let their emotions get the better of them, but expect Jeremy Pruitt's team to come out with high energy on Saturday as they look to send these seniors out of Neyland with the proper farewell.
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