Vanderbilt and Tennessee renew their annual football rivalry when the Volunteers travel to Nashville for a Saturday afternoon matchup.
If the game is played, which doesn’t seem a given considering Vanderbilt’s roster situation, it’s a great opportunity for one team to end its misery.
The Volunteers (2-6, 2-6 SEC) head west with a six-game losing streak, their longest skid since 1988. All of this year’s setbacks were by double digits, the latest a 31-19 home defeat against No. 6 Florida last weekend.
The Commodores (0-8, 0-8) have lost nine in a row overall and are hoping to avoid the first winless season in school history for a program that began playing in 1890.
It’s Senior Day for Vanderbilt, which had an unscheduled off week when it pulled out of a game at Georgia last Saturday due to COVID-19 issues. Opt-outs left the Commodores in a bad spot with both overall roster numbers as well as position depth.
The same holds true for this week.
Vanderbilt has been particularly hurt by departures on defense. Inside linebacker Dimitri Moore, a preseason third-team All-SEC pick, entered the transfer portal last month. Preseason second-team All-SEC defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo opted out ahead of this week’s game.
The school-issued depth chart illustrated just how precarious a position the Commodores are in heading into Saturday. Vanderbilt listed just five defensive linemen on its depth chart, with no backup for defensive end Nate Clifton.
Nor did it list a No. 2 behind outside linebacker Andre Mintze, perhaps the team’s best pass-rusher behind the departed Odeyingbo. And opposite Mintze, Vanderbilt listed defensive backs Jaylen Mahoney (185 pounds) and Justin Harris (194) as its other two outside linebackers.
Interim coach Todd Fitch said there were some health issues as well, though added that everyone on the depth chart was available to play as of Tuesday.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt us who we play this week and I think that adds to the motivation of the players who are out there,” Fitch said.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt added some clarity to the Vols’ quarterback competition this week after the school’s depth chart listed Harrison Bailey, J.T. Shrout, Brian Maurer and Jarrett Guarantano as co-starters.
“Harrison and J.T. will take the majority of the reps moving forward,” Pruitt said.
Bailey, a freshman, started the Florida game and completed 14 of 21 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown while absorbing five sacks.
But perhaps the Volunteers found something with Shrout, who entered the Gators game with Tennessee down 31-7 and went 12 of 14 for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Tennessee’s best chance seems to be on the ground with a starting offensive line that averages 316 pounds. Eric Gray (698 rushing yards, 4.8 per carry this year) lit Vanderbilt up last year for 246 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries.
The Commodores must make the most of their offensive opportunities. Quarterback Ken Seals (1,689 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, nine interceptions) should be helped by running back Keyon Henry-Brooks, who has amassed 677 yards from scrimmage in only five games.
Tennessee won 28-10 in Knoxville last season, snapping Vanderbilt’s three-game winning streak in the series.
–Field Level Media