Opponent: Tennessee State Tigers
Date: September 29. This one’s probably going to be on the SEC Network+, in the evening if I had to guess.
All-time series record: Vanderbilt leads, 2-0.
Last meeting: October 22, 2016, at Vanderbilt Stadium. Vanderbilt won, 35-17.
Last year’s record: 6-5
Head Coach: Rod Reed (49-42, 9th year)
Returning starters: 12 (8 offense/4 defense)
One neat thing about Vanderbilt’s scheduling over the last few years has been that the Commodores have scheduled local schools for the one FCS game of the season, and none is closer than Tennessee State.
Tennessee State and Vanderbilt are located less than three miles from one another, and yet the Commodores and Tigers have met just twice on the football field. The first game was back in 2006, which Vanderbilt won 38-9. The last time the two played was two years ago, and Tennessee State actually made a game of it before Vanderbilt pulled away in the second half for a 35-17 win.
The Tigers actually managed to beat an FBS team last year, upending Georgia State 17-10 in the season opener for both schools. They started the season 3-0 before slumping to a 2-5 finish in the Ohio Valley Conference.
In the context of FCS, Tennessee State could field a pretty good offense in 2018. The Tigers return eight starters off last year’s unit, including junior QB Michael Hughes, who took over for former Florida QB Treon Harris at midseason and threw for 1304 yards and 15 touchdowns against just six interceptions. The Tigers averaged 23.6 ppg in Hughes’ six starts. Last year’s top receiver, Patrick Smith, is gone, but junior WR Steven Newbold is back after catching 34 passes for 627 yards and four touchdowns. Treon Harris has also moved to receiver, and the Tigers return four starters on the offensive line.
Defense, though, is another matter. The Tigers held opponents to just 19.7 ppg in 2017, but seven starters are gone — including the entire defensive line. Tennessee State has some big guys listed on the roster — three defensive tackles weigh over 300 pounds — but this unit is obviously inexperienced. There is some experience back in the secondary.
Realistically, though, the difference in talent between Vanderbilt and Tennessee State is such that this isn’t anything more than a breather on the schedule. The Tigers look like a middling OVC team; if this game is in doubt at halftime, we should be very worried.