Preview: Tennessee at Vanderbilt

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KNOXVILLE, TN - November 24, 2014: Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones talks to the Media during the weekly press conference in Knoxville, TN. . Photo By Randy Sartin/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee (5-6) at Vanderbilt (3-8)

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

Vanderbilt Stadium (40,350) • Nashville, Tenn.

TV: SEC Network

Series Record: Tennessee leads 73-29-5

Setting the table:

It’s very simple for Tennessee – it’s a one-game playoff to extend the season. The Vols are on the cusp of their first bowl appearance since 2010 and they have a golden opportunity on Saturday. With five wins in their pocket, the Vols only need to knock off Vanderbilt, a team that has lost all seven SEC games this season by double-digits, to accomplish one of the biggest goals for this team. Despite Vandy’s struggles, there will still be challenges for the Vols. Coming off a home loss to Missouri, the Vols are missing multiple key players for various reasons, including receiver Marquez North (shoulder), linebacker A.J. Johnson (suspension) and possibly center Mack Crowder (ankle), who is questionable. But truthfully, there will be no excuse for the Vols. A win goes a long way towards securing a successful season, while a loss will lead to a long, long offseason.

Where Vanderbilt has the edge:

The Commodores are at the bottom of the SEC statistically in virtually every category of significance. It’s hard to find one spot where Vanderbilt owns the advantage. Perhaps they can run the ball with some degree of success. Running back Ralph Webb leads the team with 857 yards on the ground and the Commodores utilize multiple mobile quarterbacks. The Commodores also average 1.55 sacks per game, so they’ll be looking to get after UT quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who was sacked six times against Missouri last week.

Where Tennessee has the edge:

The Vols should have their way in several areas if all goes according to script. Vanderbilt is last in the conference in both scoring offense and defense. Expect Tennessee, which was averaging over 250 rushing yards per game with Dobbs at quarterback before the Missouri game, to get back on track on the ground against a Vandy defense that gives up an average of 185 yards per game rushing. Tennessee’s defense has a great chance to keep Vanderbilt’s offense at bay. The Commodores are last in the league in scoring, total and rushing offense in addition to being second to last in passing and last in turnover margin.

Quotable:

“They can say Tennessee if they want. I’ll say the team out east. They are a good football team, but they’re just the team out east. We are Vanderbilt, and they are the team out east.”

– Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason

Miscellaneous facts:

• The Vols have won 28 of their last 31 matchups against Vanderbilt, but the Commodores are on a two-game winning streak, their first winning streak against the Vols since 1925-26.

• In terms of opponent’s winning percentage, the Vols have faced the second-toughest schedule in the nation this year, behind only Arkansas

• Vanderbilt officials have confirmed a sell-out crowd for Saturday, the first sold-out game of the season for the Commodores.

Game outlook:

The Vols are favored by 17 points as of Thursday and virtually everybody will pick Tennessee to get the win and become bowl eligible. Anything can happen in the SEC and the Commodores certainly will be playing with nothing to lose and will throw everything they have at their in-state rivals. Tennessee should win – and has no excuse if it doesn’t – but we’ll see if Vanderbilt can make it interesting on Saturday afternoon.

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