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Head to Head: Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee

Vanderbilt meets Tennessee on Saturday in Knoxville. VandyMania.com's Don Yates compares the two teams in several critical areas. He also makes a prediction on the game's final score.

VANDERBILT PASSING OFFENSE VS. TENNESSEE PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: TENNESSEE

Vanderbilt is dead last in the FBS in scoring offense tallying just 14 points per game on average.  In total offense the Dores are gaining just 318.8 per game (119th).  The Commodores are 112th nationally passing gaining 168.5 yards per game.  Vanderbilt, is even worse than that stat indicates as the ‘Dores have gained an average of just 66 yards per game through the air over the past four games.  True freshman Kyle Shurmur, the scheduled starter, has completed 29 of 69 passes for 294 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Johnny McCrary has completed 146 of 267 passes for 1,533 yards, six touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  Look for McCrary to see significant action during the game.  Trent Sherfield leads the Commodores in receptions with 45, however, Sherfield, like the rest of the Commodore passing offense, has struggled the past few games. 

Tennessee is 47th nationally in total defense, allowing 366.7 yards a contest.  UT is 58th in passing yards allowed (217.9 ypg).  In the win over Missouri last week the Vols allowed the Tigers to complete 13-of-30 passes for 135 yards. UT defenders have intercepted seven passes this season. Safeties LaDarrell McNeil and Todd Kelly Jr. have each intercepted two passes for the Vols.  The Vol defense has 22 total sacks of opposing quarterbacks.   Right defensive end Derek Barnett leads UT with seven sacks.

VANDERBILT RUSHING OFFENSE VS. TENNESSEE RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: TENNESSEE

Vanderbilt’s rushing attack is 93rd best in the nation, gaining 150.4 yards per game.  Sophomore running back Ralph Webb has been a workhorse for the Commodores.  So far this season Webb has 256 carries for 1,003 yards and five touchdowns.  Last week against Texas A&M Webb had 25 carries for 79 yards (3.2 ypc).   He gained 51 yards in the first quarter but then only 28 yards the rest of the game against the Aggies.  Other key ground gainers for the ‘Dores include Darrius Sims (40 for 231 yds.), Johnny McCrary (70 for 194 yds.) and Dallas Rivers (56 for 162 yds.)

The Vols have a sound rushing defense, allowing opponents just 148.8 yards per game, good for 47th nationally.  Last week at Missouri UT allowed the Tigers just 88 yards rushing on 29 attempts (3.0 ypc).  Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin leads the Vols in tackles with 96. Twelve of those tackles were for losses.   Free safety Brian Randolph has 60 tackles. 

TENNESSEE PASSING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: VANDERBILT

Tennessee is 57th nationally in total offense averaging 413 yards per game.  The Vols are 92nd in the nation passing the ball averaging 199.6 yards per game. Last week at Missouri the Vols gained just 89 yards on 16 of 25 attempts through the air.  UT quarterback Joshua Dobbs has completed 178 of 298 passes for 1,985 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.  Wide receiver Von Pearson leads the Vols in receptions with 33 including two for touchdowns.  Another receiver, Josh Malone, has 29 catches for 388 yards and a pair of TDs.  Tennessee blockers have allowed 21 sacks this season. 

Vanderbilt’s pass defense is 44th nationally allowing 208.7 yards per game.  However, over the past two weeks the Commodore defense has allowed 463 yards through the air.  In particular, Vanderbilt allowed Texas A&M 336 passing yards in the 25-0 loss to the Aggies last week.  That included a 95-yard scoring pass.  Vandy defenders have intercepted six passes this season.  Oren Burks leads the ‘Dores with three picks.   Jahmel McIntosh has two interceptions.  The Commodore defense has sacked opposing quarterbacks 23 times in 2015 with linebacker Zach Cunningham leading the way with 3 ½ for 23 yards.

TENNESSEE RUSHING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

Tennessee has a strong rushing game, piling up 213.7 yards per game which is 26th best nationally.   Nashville native Jalen Hurd has 234 carries for 1,035 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Last week at Mizzou the Vols gained 248 yards on 51 carries (4.9 ypc), Hurd gained 151 of that but did not score a touchdown.   UT quarterback Josh Dobbs is certainly another running threat. He’s gained 530 yards in 123 attempts and scored eight touchdowns.  Alvin Kamara has 546 yards on 80 carries (6.8 ypc). 

Vanderbilt has a formidable rushing defense, allowing just 126.1 yards per game (24th nationally).  Last week against Texas A&M the Commodores limited the Aggies to just 150 yards 38 carries (3.9 ypc).   Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham leads the Commodores in tackles with 79.  Of those tackles, 49 are solo stops.  Ball hawk Darreon Herring has 52 tackles which is second best on the team. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

EDGE: TENNESSEE

Vanderbilt’s Tommy Openshaw punts for the Commodores averaging 40.4 yards on 72 punts.  He has a long punt of 78 yards.  Openshaw had costly shanks in the Florida and Houston games.  Openshaw also has kicked for Vandy, making 12 of 19 field goals with a long of 49 yards, however, Vandy has not attempted a field goal in the last four games.  The last time Vanderbilt scored points in a game (against UK two weeks ago), the Commodores utilized Hayden Lekacz for kicking extra points.   This week Openshaw and Lekacz have “or” by their name on the depth chart for the UT game.  Ryan White has 19 punt returns for a 7.7 yard average.   Darrius Sims has 23 kickoff returns for a 19.4 yard average. He has a long return of 47 yards.   Vandy has given up a long punt return for a touchdown and also allowed a 71-yard non scoring kickoff return.

Tennessee kicker Aaron Medley has connected on 17 of 26 field goals this season with a long of 45 yards.   Punter Trevor Daniel averages 45.6 yards per punt with a long of 61 yards.  Evan Berry, one of the top return men in America, has returned 20 kickoffs for a 39.5 yard average.  He has a long return of 100 yards and has scored three TDs on returns.  Cameron Sutton has 20 punt returns for a 17.2 yard per return average. He had a long return of 84 yards for a touchdown against Kentucky.   UT has blocked a punt this season but gave up a blocked field goal to Arkansas.  

COACHING

EDGE: TENNESSEE

Derek Mason is in his second season at Vanderbilt with a 7-16 (.304) with a 2-13 SEC record.  Prior to Vanderbilt Mason was a successful defensive coordinator at Stanford.  In 2012 Mason was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant coach.  Mason has some NFL coaching experience serving stints with the Vikings, Raiders, Giants and Rams.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is in his third season with the Vols.  Jones as a 19-17 (9-14 SEC) record with the Vols.  Jones also has previous head coach stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati and has a 69-44 overall career record.  He won two conference titles at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

INTANGIBLES

EDGE: TENNESSEE

Tennessee leads the all-time series with Vanderbilt 74-29-5 including a 37-11-1 record in games played in Knoxville.   Vanderbilt has won two of the last three meetings between the two schools.   This will be UT’s Senior Day with 19 Vols being honored.  Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium is considered one of the toughest road venues in the country with over 100,000 screaming home fans.  However, Vanderbilt won there in 2013 and nearly won in 2011. 

PREDICTION: Tennessee 20, Vanderbilt 7.


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