Tennessee Volunteers Football: Previewing the Vanderbilt Game

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Tennessee Volunteers Football: Previewing the Vanderbilt Game
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Another blowout at the hands of yet another superior opponent has the (4-6) Volunteers desperately searching for wins. 

Throughout the last three decades, Tennessee teams needing a couple wins in the season's final month have counted on the Vanderbilt and Kentucky games to deliver those much-needed victories. 

In 2011, however, the Vols cannot afford to take anything for granted. For the first time ever, Tennessee has opened as home underdog to (5-5) Vanderbilt. 

It wasn't a mistake for oddsmakers to install the Commodores as a favorite in Neyland Stadium either. 

Vanderbilt is simply better than Tennessee right now. First-year head coach has this veteran squad playing to the absolute best of their ability. The same cannot be said of the Vols. 

The oft-used excuses of depth, injuries and youth have become a mantra of sorts for just about anyone who covers, cheers for or coaches Tennessee. 

The Vols are coming off their single-worst showing in years. The 49-7 blowout at Arkansas sent the Vols to 0-6 in SEC play for the first time in program history. 

Ten games into a season that has been nothing short of disastrous, Tennessee needs two wins to become bowl eligible. Since 1988, only two Vols teams have not made bowl games. 

On the other hand, Vanderbilt is just one win away from just its second bowl appearance since 1982. 

Do you expect the Vols to beat Vanderbilt Saturday night?

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Here's what to expect Saturday night in Knoxville. 

 

When Tennessee Has the Ball

The key to Tennessee's offense right now is Tyler Bray. The sophomore quarterback just returned to practice a week after getting the cast off of a broken thumb suffered in the Georgia game five weeks ago. 

After a couple days of practice, Bray is still considered questionable. Derek Dooley insists that Bray must exhibit the ability to move the offense in the handful of practices before Saturday night if he is to start the game. 

Simply put, Bray absolutely must start and play to at least 75 percent of his ability for the Vols to even have a chance at scoring on this Chris Marve-led Commodores defense. 

The Vols have not scored in the second half since the fourth quarter drive on which Bray was knocked out five weeks ago. 

While freshman Justin Worley appears to have the potential to one day become a solid SEC quarterback, he simply does not have the ability to lead the Vols over a quality opponent right now. 

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Tennessee still has nothing to brag about in the running department. Sure, Tennessee running backs had a nice showing in Arkansas, but there were far too many attempts that barely made it past the line of scrimmage. 

 

 

What should you expect out of the Vols' offense Saturday night? At this point, your guess is as good as Dooley's. 

 

When Vanderbilt Has the Ball

When the Commodores switched quarterbacks, this Vandy offense really began making some noise. 

Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, has been the spark that Vanderbilt's offense has needed for years. 

Since making the first start of his Vandy career on Oct. 22, the Commodores have beaten two opponents (Army and Kentucky) by a combined score of 53 points and played Arkansas and Florida to the final possession, losing by five at the Gators and by three to the Razorbacks. 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Rodgers has thrown just one interception in his last three games. A true dual-threat quarterback, the junior rushed for 79 yards against Georgia after then-starter Larry Smith went down with an injury. In his first start, Rodgers ran for 96 yards against Army. 

The last time Tennessee played against an athletic quarterback, South Carolina's Connor Shaw made a crucial first down run and scored a rushing touchdown on his way to 64 yards on 16 carries versus the Vols. 

 

The Vols have had trouble containing Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray each of the last two seasons as well. 

 

In addition to the threat at quarterback, Tennessee must also try and stop junior running back Zac Stacy. The junior has rushed for over 800 yards this season and is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He has rushed for 100-plus four times this season. 

 

What Will Happen

Coming off that terrible showing against Arkansas, I'm not sure there are too many optimistic Vols fans left out there. While the Vols' history of domination against the Commodores is nothing to disregard, Tennessee is just not a good football team right now. 

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Blame it on injuries, depth or even the stock market crisis if you want to. The bottom line is this Tennessee team has not performed anywhere close to what it could have in 2011. 

Vanderbilt has performed at the opposite end of the spectrum. Many didn't expect the 'Dores to get more than three wins this season. Vanderbilt's first-year coach James Franklin has shifted the losing attitude of a perennial cellar-dweller in less than one full season on the job. 

Derek Dooley's rebuilding job at Tennessee has been harder than he or anyone else in the Volunteer state had hoped. The Vols are on the verge of one of their worst seasons ever. A loss to Vanderbilt would only cement that legacy for these Vols. 

Tennessee's defense will not be able to stop Rodgers or Stacy if the Vols' offense cannot sustain drives to keep the D rested. With Bray's status up in the air, it's hard to see the Vols winning this game.

 

Prediction: Vanderbilt 27-21

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