Jeremy Pruitt’s 2-6 Tennessee Vols will head down to Nashville to face the 0-8 Vanderbilt Commodores. Tennessee is coming off a 31-19 loss to #6 Florida last Saturday. Harrison Bailey went 14/21, 111 passing yards, and 1 TD in his 1st start for the Vols.
Despite Tennessee taking the lead in the 2nd quarter to go up 7-3, Florida would score 28 straight points. This 28-0 run would see Jeremy Pruitt bring in JT Shrout, who would go 12-14, 121 passing yards, 1 TD, and lead the Vols to two scoring drives in the closing minutes. The loss marked six straight by double digits, which is a school record.
Vanderbilt hasn’t done much better than the Vols this season. Their most recent performance was a 41-0 loss to Missouri. The only “Highlight” for the Commodores was Sarah Fuller kicking off for Vanderbilt in the 2nd half.
Vandy’s defense allowed over 600 yards of offense in the loss to Mizzou and only had 185 yards of total offense.
This will be Todd Fitch’s first game as Interim Head Coach. As the Vols season is near a finish, one can’t help but think about how big of a disappointment this football season has been.
While this game may not be a big game nationally or within the conference, this is a huge game for Jeremy Pruitt. This is a must-win for Pruitt to keep his job. While this football season has been a dumpster fire, Pruitt can save his job if he ends the 6 game losing streak and grab the Vol’s first win at Vanderbilt since 2014.
If Pruitt’s team allows Vanderbilt to get their first win, Fulmer will have no choice but to fire Pruitt. For Pruitt to save his job, here is what the Vols must do to beat Vanderbilt:
Secondary Must Improve
Tennessee’s secondary had another disappointing performance against the Gators last Saturday. The Vols allowed Kyle Trask to have another Heisman type performance, 35-49 for 433 passing yards and 4 TDs.
Trask averaged 8.8 yards a pass last Saturday. To put it nicely, Tennessee’s secondary has been abysmal this season.
According to NCAA.com, Tennessee is ranked 103rd in passing yards allowed. Tennessee allowed 12.88 yards per completion.
Only 9 teams allowed more yards per completion than Tennessee.
Here’s a better stat.
PFF ranks all 127 secondaries every week in the FBS. As of right now, Tennessee is ranked 121st in the FBS in slot coverage grade.
That means there are only 6 teams that are worse in covering the slot than Tennessee.
That is unacceptable, especially from “Defensive Guru” Jeremy Pruitt. Luckily for Tennessee, Vanderbilt is nowhere near as good as Florida at throwing the football.
Vanderbilt’s QB Ken Seals has thrown for 1,689 yards with 10 TDs, and 9 INTs this season. Seals only threw for 79 yards and averaged 4.4 yards in their loss to Missouri.
Vanderbilt’s passing game is ranked 75th according to NCAA. This should be a much easier task for the Vols secondary come Saturday.
However, Tennessee must do a better job at covering the slot. Tennessee’s biggest weakness this season has been covering the slant route.
It won’t surprise in the slightest if 80% of Vanderbilt’s passing plays are slants. If Tennessee fails again to cover the slot, This could be an embarrassing loss to a terrible Vanderbilt team.
Give Eric Gray The Football
The Vols must give Eric Gray the football more on Saturday. One of the things I was disappointed with last Saturday’s performance was the run game.
Tennessee only ran for 94 yards against Florida, averaging 2.4 yards a carry. Eric Gray only had 12 carries for 47 yards, averaging 3.9 yards a carry.
However, Eric Gray did catch a 15-yard touchdown pass from Harrison Bailey against the Gators that gave the Vols a 7-3 lead. Eric Gray had an unbelievable performance against the Commodores last season, rushing for 246 yards and 3 TDs. Vanderbilt’s rush defense is one of the worst in the country, ranked at 90th.
Chaney must make Gray a focus this Saturday; give the guy 20-25 carries on Saturday. If Tennessee gives Gray over 20 carries and runs the ball on Vanderbilt, they will easily cruise their way to a victory.
Passing Game Must Be Productive
This has been a common theme all season, but Tennessee’s passing game must improve against Vanderbilt Saturday. Harrison Bailey got his first start as a Vol, and it was average, going 14/21 for 111 passing yards and 1 TD.
However, Bailey struggled in the 2nd half, throwing just for 40 yards. This led Jeremy Pruitt to put in JT Shrout in the 4th quarter.
While it may have been against Florida’s backups, Shrout threw for 121 yards and 1 TD and led Tennessee to two scoring drives. But despite Bailey’s struggles in the 2nd half, the offense looked much better with Bailey under center.
It clear that Guarantano will not be Tennessee’s QB for the rest of the season. Pruitt said earlier this week that both Bailey and Shrout have looked good in practice this week.
The good thing for the Vols is that Vanderbilt’s secondary is much worse than Florida’s. Vanderbilt averages to allow 292.5 passing yards per game, which is ranked 120th.
This should be the best passing performance of the season. Harrison Bailey will get the start, but JT Shrout will get a couple of opportunities to throw the football and make his mark.
While I do expect the gameplan to be mainly focused on the running game, Bailey and Shrout will get their opportunities to sling the rock.
If both Bailey and Shorut can take advantage of Vanderbilt’s secondary, Tennessee will snap their 6 game lose streak and grab their first win in Vanderbilt Stadium since 2014.