The School: The “University” of Tennessee
Record: 8-3 (4-3 in the SEC). Early season wins over Appalachian State and Georgia were have since been cited by Richard Dawkins as existence there is no higher power, but only chaos in this world.
Mascot: Smokey, a bluetick coonhound I can’t possibly hate because even a Tennessee dog is still a very good dog.
Location: Knoxville, TN. The home of Kenny Chesney. Knoxville wasn’t just satisfied ruining college football for everyone, it had to go after country music, too.
Coach: Butch Jones, currently in year four of his five-year tenure in Knoxville. The Butch Jones era can tidily be summed up in a pair of Tweets.
Conference: The Southeastern Conference. Only added as a logical counterbalance to Vanderbilt. You’re ballast, Tennessee. Never forget that.
All-time vs. Vanderbilt: 75-30-5
I mean, you’re very good ballast, but ballast nonetheless. When you consider Vandy started the rivalry with a 19-2 edge, this looks even more bleak.
In the Last 10 Years vs. Vanderbilt: 8-2. That includes the 41-18 beatdown of the Vols, one scant year after Derek Dooley assured his team “the one thing that Tennessee always does is kick the shit out of Vandy,”
Dooley was fired soon after the defeat once it was confirmed he can’t do anything right.
The Last Time We Saw These Guys: Urrrgggggggh. Josh Dobbs showed us all how badly Vanderbilt performs against mobile quarterbacks by throwing for 140 yards and rushing for 93 more. He scored three of UT’s, sigh, six touchdowns as a 17-14 game quickly devolved into a 53-28 defeat.
Plus side: Kyle Shurmur has thrown more touchdown passes against Tennessee than any other opponent in his college career, all stemming from this game.
Do They Run the Triple Option?: No. Maybe they could have if Jalen Hurd were still on the team, but he’s gone.
Is Vandy Favored?: No, they’re an eight-point underdog. But the Commodores were a 9.5-point underdog last week, and look how that turned out. What does ESPN have to say about it?
Years of Vanderbilt fandom has programmed me to feel nothing but dread about a passage like that. TAKE IT BACK.
Most Potent Offensive Threat: Still Dobbs. It’s tough to overlook the guy who scored three touchdowns and ran for more than eight yards per carry in last year’s blowout win. Vanderbilt just shut down a mobile quarterback by hamstringing Ole Miss’s Shea Patterson, but Patterson was a true freshman making his second-ever NCAA start. Dobbs is way, way more experienced than that.
Most Potent Defensive Threat: Derek Barnett is a 265-pound wrecking ball of a defensive end who has averaged a sack per game this fall. He sacked Kyle Shurmur twice in 2015 and got to Patton Robinette once in 2014. He’s got a track record of eating up Vandy offensive tackles, and that probably won’t end on Saturday.
Matchup to Watch: Vanderbilt’s wide receivers vs. a regression to the mean. The Commodores’ wideouts played their best game of the season last week, using Velcro hands to haul in any pass in their general vicinity. It was extremely impressive — and also a total outlier compared to the unit’s other performances in 2016.
Shurmur will need his pass catchers to keep up this pace against a fired-up Tennessee defense in a rivalry game. The Vols have the pass rush to keep the sophomore quarterback from planting his feet and delivering pinpoint passes. He’ll need his receivers to be able to adjust to the ball and make some plays to keep the Vandy offense rolling.
Interesting Fact: There is nothing interesting about Knoxville, Tennessee.
If Tennessee wins, we: Mason’s dialed in for year four no matter what at this point, but if he wants us to be actually excited about it he’d better win. A victory means pushing a few more season tickets and a winter of good press. A loss means more message board chatter and hand-wringing over whether this team can actually be good for more than one week at a time.