Pre-Snap Read: Tennessee

Nov. 24, 2017

By Zac Ellis

Previewing Saturday’s game between Vanderbilt and Missouri (3 p.m. CT on SEC Network):

History Lesson: Tennessee owns a 75-31-5 edge in the annual series between the in-state rivals. But Vanderbilt has won three of the past five meetings, including last year’s 45-34 win in Nashville. With another victory, the Commodores will notch back-to-back wins over the Vols for just the second time since 1926.

Names to Watch (Tennessee)
RB John Kelly
This week Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason called Kelly “as good a running back as there is in this conference.” But the junior is a versatile weapon, as he leads Tennessee in both rushing yards (758) and receiving yards (294). Kelly has recorded three 100-yard rushing games in 2017, including a season-high 141 yards vs. Florida.

OL Trey Smith
Smith is a standout of an otherwise banged-up offensive line. The Jackson, Tenn. native became the first Vol to start at left tackle as a true freshman in at least 30 years when he earned a start vs. Southern Miss on Nov. 4. Smith currently leads all Vols with 53 knockdowns.

DL Kendal Vickers
Vickers has started 36 straight games on Tennessee’s defense and has evolved into a consistent producer along the way. He has put up 45 total tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks this season.

PODCAST: Breaking down Vanderbilt-Tennessee with Sports Radio WNML's Josh Ward

The Statistical
Quarterbacks played by Tennessee this season. Early starter Quinten Dormady lost the job to redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano following a 41-0 loss to then-No. 7 Georgia. Guarantano started the next four games, but an ankle injury suffered in a win over Southern Miss paved the way for true freshman Will McBride to start against Missouri. With Dormady now out with a season-ending shoulder injury, either Guarantano or McBride will start against Vanderbilt – but both could play for a passing offense that ranks 13th in the SEC (6.4 yards per attempt).

Interceptions by Kyle Shurmur in the last two games. Two weeks ago, Shurmur entered a matchup with Kentucky having thrown just three picks all season. But the junior tossed four against the Wildcats and three last week against Missouri. Shurmur’s otherwise impressive year – a single-season record-tying 22 touchdown passes – has lifted Vanderbilt’s offense. He can’t let mistakes dictate Saturday’s matchup on Rocky Top.

Ralph Webb’s combined rushing yards in his last two games against Tennessee. Webb scampered for 149 yards on 21 carries vs. the Vols in 2015 and followed with a 111-yard, one-touchdown effort on 21 carries against UT last season. Saturday is slated to be Webb’s 49th consecutive – and possibly final – start at Vanderbilt. Does the senior have some fireworks in store?

The Big Question: Which team has more pride? Tennessee won’t play in a bowl game in 2017. Vanderbilt has an outside shot at a postseason berth with a win, but that path is unclear. This rivalry matchup will come down to which team wants it more. “We didn’t have the season that we wanted, but this game is a huge rivalry,” senior linebacker Oren Burks said this week. “Bottom line, we need to get this win by any means.”

Vanderbilt Needs To: Shut down Tennessee’s offense. The Vols rank last in the SEC and 123rd nationally in total offense, averaging 4.72 yards per play. They head into the weekend with a banged-up offensive line and continued questions at quarterback. This is an opportunity for the Commodores’ struggling defense to find its footing. If the Dores’ D can get off the field, Shurmur and company have enough firepower to put points on the board vs. Tennessee.

Did You Know? With a loss to Vanderbilt, Tennessee would secure its first eight-loss season in program history. The Vols are currently one of just two college football programs in the country to never lose eight games in a season. (Ohio State is the other.)

He Said It: “You’ve got two programs that aren’t where they want to be, but know where they’re trying to get to… This game goes a long way towards what you want your offseason to look like.” –Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason

Zac Ellis is the Writer is the Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.


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