One year ago the Tennessee football team entered the second to last week of their season with a 4-6 record, and still eligible to make a bowl game in a lost season. However, when they departed Nashville, Tenn. they were left with their seventh loss of the season, eventually resulting in their third consecutive losing season, and the immediate firing of then head coach Derek Dooley.
Fast-forward a year later. Tennessee is 4-6 again, now led by Dooley’s first-year successor Butch Jones, and needing to win their final two games to become bowl eligible, and avoid a fourth straight losing season.
On Saturday, Nov. 23, the Tennessee Volunteers (4-6, 1-5) will face the Vanderbilt Commodores (6-4, 3-4) for the 107th time in the programs histories. The game will kick-off at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. Also, after a senior vote, Tennessee will don their Smokey Gray uniforms for the second time this season in their home season finale.
Vanderbilt is on a hot-streak as of late. Dating back to last season they’ve won 13 of their last 17 games, and seven straight in the month of November. They became bowl eligible for the third consecutive season with their win over Kentucky, and captured their first victory over Florida in the swamp since 1945.
Emotions will be running high on Saturday not only because it will be the seniors final game in Neyland Stadium, but also because last year will still be fresh on the mind of all the Vols that had to endure the embarrassment they suffered a year ago.
Last season not only did Vanderbilt beat the Vols in Nashville for the first time since 1982, but the 41-18 shellacking the Dores’ put on Tennessee ended any chance of bowl eligibility, secured their third straight losing season, and led to Dooley’s firing the very next morning after the game.
Vanderbilt’s dominating victory was the worst loss the Vols had suffered to their in-state rivals since a 51-7 loss in 1923.
While Saturday will be a day for the seniors, it will still be a freshman leading a nearly all-senior offensive line.
Since taking over at quarterback in the second half against Alabama, Vols’ quarterback Josh Dobbs has still yet to score a touchdown of his own, whether it be on the ground or through the air he’s yet to put a single point of his own on the board. In three games he’s completed 47-of-79 passes for 443 yards and three interceptions.
A week ago in their 55-23 loss to Auburn, Tennessee’s biggest problem was finishing off drives once getting to the redzone. Luckily for them on Saturday they will face the SEC’s worst redzone defense. The Commodores are also ranked 115th in the nation in redzone defense.
While being more efficient in the redzone will be a top priority for Tennessee’s offense, containing Jordan Matthews will be the challenge for the Vols defense.
Matthews is the SEC’s career leader in receiving yards in the midst of his senior season, and his only four receptions shy of breaking the SEC’s career receptions mark. The Biletnikoff semifinalist has 61 catches for 774 yards in seven SEC games this season, including a season-opening 10-catch, 178 yard performance against Ole Miss.
While the Vols pass defense has vastly improved from a year ago, they’ll have to be on their best game to contain one of the SEC’s leading receivers, and keep him from achieving his 17th career 100-yard receiving performance.
After Saturday’s final home game it’ll be off to the bluegrass state for Tennessee’s regular season finale against Kentucky, and what may determine the Vols’ bowl season fate.
For a look back at some of the seniors playing their final game in Neyland Stadium Saturday night checkout the Tennessee football senior salute.