Looking to extend the team's winning streak to five, Vanderbilt (6-4, 4-3 SEC) will have to defeat Tennessee (4-6, 0-6 SEC) for the first time since 2005.
Vanderbilt will have to rely on their defense to attempt to keep Tennessee's offense in check. Their defense currently ranks 16th in the nation while only allowing 18 points a game; however, Tennessee's offense is 20th in the nation in scoring, averaging 37.9 points per game.
"Tennessee has as good of an offense as I've seen. The game is played upfront in this league. I think one of the big reasons they've been so good is how they've been playing on the offensive line. They're massive. They've only given up five sacks all year, and I don't know if I've ever heard of something like that before," said Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. "Tyler Bray is very accurate and gets rid of the ball quickly. He's a better athlete than people give him credit for, and does a really good job of buying time in the pocket."
Vanderbilt will have to rely on their core veteran leaders to keep the pressure on. Redshirt-senior defensive end Johnell Thomas and junior safety Kenny Ladler will have to step up and force the Tennessee passing game to make mistakes.
"I've been watching film and they are a very talented team. Of course, I think they've only given up five sacks this year — a very good offensive line," said Thomas. "They're talented, but I have so much confidence in Coach (Bob) Shoop and his play calling that I feel pretty confident about this game and going in to it. I'm looking forward to seeing what this week will bring us."
Though the key to the game for the Commodores may lie in shutting down the high-powered Tennessee offense, it is Vanderbilt's offense that can be the final difference maker in this matchup. The combination of redshirt-senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers and junior wide receiver Jordan Matthews are set to expose Tennessee's 113th ranked defense allowing an average of 37 points a game.
"I feel in the last couple of games we've made strides to get more in the direction of where this passing game needs to be from an efficiency standpoint," said Rodgers. "It's always good when you don't turn the ball over, but the more positive plays and higher completion percentage, the better this offense can be."
One of the keys to the game for the Vanderbilt offense is to get senior running back Zac Stacy on rhythm after having missed the rest of the team's last game against Ole Miss after just his second carry of the game. If he is unable to play, Vanderbilt will be forced to rely on freshman Brian Kimbrow, who only has 396 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season.
"It's going to be a tremendous challenge, especially with their offense and the challenges they pose to our defense with their size, speed and athleticism," said Franklin. "One of the things we try to do is pressure the quarterback, and they're not allowing any pressure on the quarterback. I know our guys are excited about the opportunity and ready to play in our home stadium."
The Commodores will attempt to break Tennessee's winning streak against them Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, at Vanderbilt Stadium.