We’re now less than 24 hours away from Tennessee’s regular-season finale against their in-state rival, the Vanderbilt Commodores. Despite Vanderbilt winning the last three match-ups, Tennessee is more than a 3 touchdown favorite and is expected to roll the Commodores to defy odds and finish the season 7-5.
First off, can we just take a minute to reflect on how impressive a 7-5 season would be for Tennessee? When you start the season the way Tennessee did, a lot of teams would throw in the towel and wave the white flag, the Vols did not do that. They continued to fight and after starting the season 1-4, they won 5 of their last 6 to clinch bowl eligibility and now have an opportunity to finish with 7 wins. It sounds like a plot that you would see unfold in a movie, yet the Vols have actually achieved it. They should be praised for overcoming adversity unlike a lot of past Butch Jones coached teams who folded as soon as they had a bump in the road.
While the Volunteers season was filled with magic and overcoming challenges to reach your goal, Vanderbilt is currently dealing with the exact opposite situation. In fact, it is very difficult to imagine things being any worse in Nashville. The Commodore’ season has been a complete and utter nightmare and has featured extreme low points including a head-scratching loss to UNLV. As an unbiased spectator, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Vanderbilt as they’ve faced some truly strenuous obstacles over the course of the season.
While the Volunteers have earned victories over 5 of their last 6 opponents, Vandy has fallen to 4 of their last 6 and while they never gained any real momentum all season long, all of the wind is certainly out of their sails heading into this match-up. In other words, if you’re a believer in the concept of momentum Tennessee should absolutely obliterate Vanderbilt tomorrow and the game should really not be close.
As Vanderbilt and Tennessee kick-off the excitement in Neyland Stadium is at a climax, Vol fans are confident in their squad to roll over the Commodores. As for Vandy, there is no doubt they’re excited for the opportunity to beat Tennessee for the 4th year in a row for the first time since the 1920s. In their locker room, they don’t see Tennessee as the superior program in the state, they see themselves as the State of Tennessee’s premier program. For the first time in a long time, Vanderbilt holds the psychological edge over Tennessee. Most players on Tennessee’s roster have never beaten Vanderbilt, and for many, this will be their last opportunity to do that. All of this is known by both sides as the ball finally flies through the air and the game begins.
On offense, the Volunteers start strong under the leadership of seniors Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, who will play in Neyland Stadium for the final time. Throughout the first half, Vanderbilt’s defense struggles to slow down Jennings and the Volunteer’s experienced wide-receiver core and Jarrett Guarantano appears to continue his hot streak while delivering 50-50 balls to his elite receivers. On defense the Vols are holding steady, Vanderbilt is trying to rely on Keshawn Vaughn and the running game but Daniel Bituli and Henry To’oto’o are stepping up to shut it down.
The Volunteers are up 14-3 when Vandy punts it back to UT with less than a minute remaining in the half. With all 3 timeouts and the ball near midfield, Jeremy Pruitt makes the decision to sling it around in hopes of scoring to create an insurmountable lead going into halftime. Jarrett Guarantano tosses a deep ball to Josh Palmer who makes a spectacular catch in the endzone twisting his entire body to get one foot in as the Vols head to the locker room with a 21-3 lead.
In the 2nd half Vanderbilt responds as Keshawn Vaughn marches the Commodores down the field for a touchdown to cut the Tennessee lead to 21-10. When Tennessee’s offense is unable to respond they punt it back to Vanderbilt pinning them in deep inside their own 5-yard line. This would be as close as Vanderbilt would get to beating the Vols as a strip-sack in the endzone is immediately recovered by Aubrey Solomon for a touchdown.
As the clock finally hits zero Tennessee’s bench storms out onto the field to celebrate the end of the regular season and the adversity they overcame. Jeremy Pruitt and Derek Mason shake hands at center field and deep down Mason knows it will be the final game he coaches at Vanderbilt despite being awarded the vote of confidence a few weeks prior.