TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS VS. VANDERBILT COMMODORES
Time: 4:00 p.m. ET/3:00 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Watch Online: WatchESPN.com
The history of the football programs of Tennessee and Vanderbilt is very different, but their 2018 seasons have been rather similar. Now, both 5-6, the Volunteers and Commodores meet in Nashville for their annual rivalry game. This year it decides more than bragging rights. It decides bowl eligibility.
The Tennessee Volunteers have had an up-and-down season in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year. They’ve struggled a lot against a tough schedule, but they’ve played tougher than most of the teams that came before them. They have been blown out by rivals Florida and Alabama, but did manage to upset Auburn on the road and Kentucky at home. They are coming off a 50-17 blowout at the hands of the Missouri Tigers however, and need this road win to get back to a bowl. Doing so would be a huge accomplishment for Pruitt.
Vanderbilt has played much better down the stretch this season, after struggling very early on. They’ve won 2 of their last 3 and have played most teams close since getting blown out by Georgia several weeks prior. Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn has sparked the offense, and senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur has played well lately. The Commodores are coming off an overtime victory over the Ole Miss Rebels.
Vanderbilt has won the last 2 matchups in this series and 5 of the last 7. While Derek Mason has only made one bowl game in his time at Vanderbilt (and it didn’t go so well) he has a stellar record against Vanderbilt’s biggest rival. In some ways, that’s all that really matters. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur has been a large part of that, as he has balled out against the Vols both of the past two years. In his final home game, expect him to attack the Tennessee defense aggressively.
Tennessee’s offense has been inconsistent to say the least, but quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has not been the primary issue. He still needs work, but he is a solid quarterback when healthy. The Tennessee rushing attack has also been productive, and it matches up with a Vanderbilt defense that has struggled all season. The Commodores have given up an average of 26.2 points per game, and the Volunteers average scoring 23.8 per game. If they can establish a rushing attack, the Volunteers should be able to lean on their more talented players to win the game. That’s an important “if” though.
Vanderbilt is less talented in pretty much every area, but you could argue they are better in most areas too. Their skill position players are largely upperclassmen and have been making plays for longer. Kyle Shurmur is currently a better quarterback than Guarantano and will likely have a field day in his final college home game. While history does not favor Vanderbilt in this rivalry, it does favor them recently. Derek Mason has had his way with the Volunteers before and will likely have his way again.
A win for either program is big in this game. In some ways, this rivalry game has some of the biggest stakes of all. A win for Vanderbilt gets them Derek Mason’s second bowl appearance and greatly helps his tenure there. A win for Jeremy Pruitt gives him a bowl in his first year and helps develop his young players even more with the bowl practices. All of college football should be watching to see which program emerges from the state of Tennessee for bowl season.