Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee
Saturday, 18-November-2006—11:30 AM CST
Radio: WGFX 104.5 FM & Eight Affiliates + Sirius Radio
WLAC 1510 AM & almost 70 Affiliates (Tennessee Network)
Weather Forecast: A seasonable day! Temperatures will rise from the upper 30's to the upper 40's in the morning and reach the mid 50's by kickoff. The expected high will be 59 degrees. Skies should be mostly sunny with a light wind from the West. Humidity should be normal for Nashville—on the high side.
Vanderbilt 1-6 in the SEC, 4-7 Overall
Tennessee 3-3 in the SEC, 7-3 overall
This is the 100th or 101st game in the series. The discrepancy results from the game played in 1918. During the Great War (aka WWI), Tennessee suspended varsity football after most of their players were called to active duty in the military. Two different groups of students and military recruits formed informal teams. One of these teams, known as the Student Army Training Corps, played Vanderbilt in Nashville and lost 76-0.
Counting that game, Tennessee leads the series 67-28-5. In Nashville, the Vols lead 33-18-4. Two of those Vol wins occurred at the current L.P. Field
Tennessee has dominated the series since the early days of college football. Since 1960, the period where Vanderbilt football has been on the decline, Tennessee leads the series 41-4-1. Since the end of World War II, Tennessee leads 53-7-1. Since the year General Robert Neyland assumed command in Knoxville, Tennessee owns a 65-10-3 advantage. Vanderbilt enjoyed success in the early years, winning 18 times, losing just twice, and finishing tied twice.
In 1964, Tennessee came to Dudley Field needing a victory to finish with a winning record. The 4-4-1 Vols under first year coach Doug Dickey had been a single wing team for the previous four decades. This was their first season running a Wing T-formation and a 5-2 monster defense. As a result, the orange and white offense was anemic, averaging less than 85 rushing yards and 70 passing yards per game. Entering the Vanderbilt game, Tennessee had won four games thanks to an outstanding defense. They edged Chattanooga, Mississippi State, Boston College, and Georgia Tech by a combined score of 62-47. In their four losses (Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Kentucky), Tennessee had scored just 15 total points.
For Vanderbilt, 1964 was also a year that saw great defense and little offense. The Commodores had the school's best defense in the period between 1960 and the present day, but the offense didn't generate enough points to enjoy the benefits of having the best defense in the Southeastern Conference.
Vanderbilt entered the game sporting a 2-6-1 record. If the offense had been able to contribute anything, four of those losses could have been wins. Only two teams, national champion Alabama (led by quarterback Joe Namath) and Miami (Fl) had solved Vandy's defense, combining for 59 points. The other seven foes scored just 63 points.
Any chance for a Vanderbilt upset over Tennessee on this late November afternoon would probably require the black and gold defense to keep the orange and white off the scoreboard. And, that's exactly what happened. Tennessee did absolutely nothing with the ball for three quarters.
Vanderbilt led 7-0 late in the game thanks to a 40-yard run by halfback Toby Wilt that gave the Commodores a first down inside the Tennessee 10. Halfback Bob Sullins followed pulling guard Paul Guffee off left tackle and scored from the two yard line.
On their final possession, Tennessee began a long march deep into Commodore territory. With a first and goal, in the final minutes, Coach Dickey was already planning on going for two and the win once Tennessee crossed the goal line. Three plays advanced the ball to the one yard line. On 4th and goal at the one, Vol quarterback Art Galiffa handed the ball to fullback Jack Patterson and faked to halfback Hal Wantland. Patterson slanted toward the goal with enough momentum to get in, but end Bennett "Bumpy" Baldwin met him just shy of pay dirt and brought him down 18 inches short of the goal line. The Commodores won 7-0. They have won just three more times in the 41 years since.
When Vanderbilt Runs The Ball
Good running backs and good rushing teams have found some success running against the Vols. In the last three games, opponents have averaged 218.3 yards rushing (and a 5.24 avg.). Of course, those three teams were South Carolina, LSU, and Arkansas. Vanderbilt has a chance to do some damage on the ground in this game, and this may be one Saturday where Jared Hawkins could be a star. If he can get the ball on the perimeter with one blocker, he could cut and speed into the open. Tennessee has been a little slow covering quick running plays.
Quarterback Chris Nickson needs to find his running rhythm early and force Tennessee to think run before pass when he begins to scramble. Getting the Volunteer secondary to think Nickson is going to run first and pass second could allow the receivers to get open a few yards deeper down the field.
Cassen Jackson-Garrison will be called on to pick up the tough yardage between the tackles. Tennessee's players have taken it upon themselves to try to injure him in the past as payback for leaving Knoxville and going to Vandy.
I expect the Commodores to run the ball more times tomorrow than they normally do. They average 32 rushes per game; look for somewhere around 36 attempts. If those three dozen plays net 150 yards or more, it should give Vandy a chance to compete in the game.
When Tennessee Runs The Ball
Tennessee hasn't rushed for fewer years since, you guessed it, 1964. Except for the back-to-back romps over Marshall and Memphis, the Vols have been ineffective on the ground. In the other eight games, their rushing average has been 28 rushes for 85 yards per game (3.1 avg.).
Last week, the Commodores faced a Kentucky team that wasn't effective running the ball. However, the Wildcats picked up 147 yards rushing, thanks mostly to the return of Rafael Little. If Tennessee runs the ball for more than 125 yards, it will be significant. Vanderbilt's front seven needs to control the Vol running game to give the backfield a fighting chance at keeping the Vol passing game from repeating what Kentucky did to it last week.
Tennessee will run the ball at least 25 times. If they run it 35 times, it will be because of a combination of winning the battle of the interior line and trying to take time off the clock once they have the lead. So, Commodore fans need to root for them to run the ball no more than 25 to 28 times and pick up less than 100 yards. If those parameters are met, it means the Vols would have been forced to pass the ball.
When Vanderbilt Throws The Ball
The last few weeks, Vanderbilt has become a potent passing team. The Commodores have average 340.3 yards per game through the air in their last three games. Nickson has completed 61% of his passes for 9.5 yards per attempt! It has led to improved scoring, as Vandy has tallied 90 points in those three games. The problem is it has led to about 15 additional plays per game. Those extra plays combined with injuries and season-long fatigue have caused the defense to fall apart, giving up 89 total points and 429 yards per game.
Vanderbilt needs to throw the ball well to win the game, but they need to throw fewer passes this week. I'd say it would be wise to pass no more than 35 times. Most of those passes need to stretch the Vol defense vertically, so the running game has a fighting chance to do the damage.
The stats a Vandy fan would like to see would be 18 of 30 for 240 yards and no interceptions. Anything comparable or better than that should give the Commodores a fair chance to win.
When Tennessee Throws The Ball
How effective will Erik Ainge be after missing the Arkansas game and all but a few minutes of the LSU game? He is capable of picking the Commodore pass defense apart if he is close to 100% healthy. It will be of prime importance for the Commodores' pass rush to pay dividends and offer Ainge a seat on the grass at least three times in this game. He might be a tad gun-shy if he is hit early.
If Ainge gets adequate time, he will find Meachem, Jayson Swain, and Bret Smith enough times to lead his team to victory. The Commodore pass rush is going to be the key point in this game. I predict a Vanderbilt victory if the Commodores can pick up three sacks, three QB hurries, one interception, and break up two passes. Anything short of that will tax the secondary past its limits and allow the talented trio of receivers to close the deal.
Special Teams Play
Tennessee has a distinct advantage in this department. Punter Britton Colquitt is the best in the league. Place kicker James Wilhoit is not far from being the best. Jonathan Hefney can turn one low punt into a game-deciding breakaway return.
Brett Upson and Bryant Hahnfeldt both have the potential to be excellent at their crafts, but presently, they are not performing at the level they are capable of performing. Upson has to relax and not feel pressured every time he punts the ball. A lot of Hahnfeldt's troubles can be attributed to poor snapping.
Vanderbilt has done nothing with their return games this year. There have been no breakaway punt returns. The Commodores average just 4.9 per return with a long of 16 yards. Alex Washington has a 43-yard kickoff return, but as a team the Gold Men average a paltry 17.6 yards per kick return.
PiRate: Tennessee 24 Vanderbilt 14
Average of 50 Computer Rankings: Tennessee by 11 points. 49 of the 50 ratings select Tennessee to win with the other rating calling this game a tossup. A majority of the ratings pick Tennessee to win by 9-17 points.
P6TR: Tennessee. All six of the computers pick Tennessee to win by a range of seven to 16 points.
Vanderbuilder's Guess: Tennessee has too much at stake, while Vanderbilt is running out of gas on the defensive side. I look for the Commodore defense to play admirably and courageously for most of the first half, but like a Major League pitcher going on just two days rest, I expect the Vandy stop troops to wear down and give up too many second half points. I see the Vols winning by 10-14 points. Call it a 28-16 victory for the Orange.