The Vols (6-5) have a chance to put an exclamation point on their regular season as they host Vanderbilt (3-8) on Saturday.
Here are the three keys:
By Steve Wright
Keep spreading the love
The trio of Jauan Jennings, Josh Palmer, and Marquez Callaway has been effective all season. One Saturday against Mizzou, however, they went off as a trio, becoming the first trio of wide outs to all pass 100 yards receiving in the same game in school history.
This presents a host of matchup issues for the Vandy defense as clearly the Vols passing game is high powered. The Commodores might try to take one of the stars out of the game with double coverage, but there should always be a pass catcher open somewhere on the field on Saturday.
Stop Ke’Shawn Vaughn
The Illinois transfer has been the lone bright spot at times for Vandy this season. He was exceptional last week against ETSU, a game in which he scored his 20th and 21st rushing touchdowns to become the third leading touchdown scoring back in school history. That he has managed that in just two years is highly impressive.
Vanderbilt QB Riley Neal isn’t good enough to beat Tennessee on his own. If the Vols shut down Vaughn then they take away the running game. Without the running game Vanderbilt can’t win here.
Use the motivation
The last time that the Tennessee seniors went an entire career without beating Vanderbilt was almost a century ago. Vandy has owned Tennessee over the last three years, actually getting a bigger margin of victory each time over their rivals. It feels like a rivalry again and Saturday will be intense.
This Tennessee crop of seniors will not want to be the ones to change that statistic. The key here will be keeping the motivation in check while still spitting fire. Vanderbilt is much more beatable this year than it has been over the previous couple of years, but penalties and turnovers – effort mistakes – will help them stay in the game.