KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee football team was back at practice at Haslam Field on Monday ready to prepare for its final opponent of the 2018 regular season. The Vols travel to Nashville to face the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network). With both teams at 5-6, the winner will become bowl eligible.
More than just a bowl, the Vols will be playing for pride.
“This game means a whole lot to a whole lot of people and probably since the Florida loss or the Georgia loss, we’ve been playing for pride,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “To me, you can talk about winning a championship or whatever, but pride is about as important as it gets.”
Vanderbilt is led by fifth-year head coach Derek Mason. The Commodores have a four-year starter at quarterback in senior Kyle Shurmur and an experienced offensive line that returned all five starters and the top two reserves from the 2017 team.
The Commodores are coming off a 36-29 overtime win against Ole Miss where they gave up 578 yards, but controlled the clock, tallied two interceptions and blocked a punt that led to a safety. Redshirt junior running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn – a transfer from Illinois – had his third straight 100-yard rushing game against the Rebels.
Following a 50-17 loss to Missouri in Neyland Stadium, the Vols will need to regroup against their in-state foe. UT will need to snap the two-game losing streak to Vanderbilt to reach a bowl and send the 13 Tennessee seniors out on a high note.
“I think it’s important for our players,” Pruitt said. “It’s going to be important for our senior class to end with a win against Vanderbilt. I think it’s important for everyone associated with our program to raise our level of play. We’ve had opportunities to do that a couple of times this year and in my opinion have not necessarily played at our best. That’s on us as coaches to get everybody in our program to be at their best.
“It’s a great opportunity for us. It’s a chance to possibly have a winning record and anytime you have positive things going on, I think it’s going to help you in recruiting.”
The Vols will hold a morning practice on Thanksgiving before coaches will host players at their houses for dinner. Tennessee will also have an all-staff Thanksgiving lunch on Friday before traveling to Nashville.
On Monday, Pruitt said what he was thankful for in his press conference.
“I’m thankful for my family,” Pruitt said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity that I have here at the University of Tennessee, the staff that’s here that works with us, our players, our administration, our fanbase. I told the kids Saturday during the Vol Walk, I wanted them to look around and see so they had an understanding of what the passion is for the program that we all represent and the obligation that we have to the people that came before us and the people that are going to come after us.”
Tennessee Player Quotes (Nov. 19)
Junior Defensive Back Baylen Buchanan
On playing Vanderbilt:
“It is important that we go to a bowl game this year, but we have to focus on this game first and that is where it starts.”
On playing for pride:
“I know it means a lot for the people of Knoxville, Vol Nation, the coaches and our team that we win this game this week. Like I said, I haven’t beaten them (Vanderbilt), so it means a lot for us to win this week.”
On playing for a bowl game:
“I went to a bowl game my freshman year and last year we didn’t go to a bowl game. I’ve seen both sides of it and I’ll tell you that going to a bowl game definitely means a lot more and it is a lot more fun. We just have to execute this week.”
Redshirt Sophomore Offensive Lineman Marcus Tatum
On highs and lows:
“Coach Pruitt stays the same no matter what, so there are not really any highs or lows because the staff is going to stay the same and that means that we’re going to stay the same.”
On getting better at left tackle:
“I feel a lot more comfortable in my own head. I used to think myself out of situations, but developing there, playing more there and getting tips and reminders from everyone that has played there has helped a lot.”
On Trey Smith giving advice to the offensive line:
“He has given us space, but he isn’t trying to overwhelm people. He has given us pointers because he is a great player. He has played against a lot of great players, so he just gives us some pointers on the sideline and he watches my footwork and hands. He told me what to work on and what to fix to keep going.”
Redshirt Senior Defensive Back Toddy Kelly Jr.
On how much the Vanderbilt game means to the team:
“I think it’s important. In my case, it’s my last game of the season and we can extend our season a little bit longer if we make a bowl game. Vanderbilt just won this past game so they’re in the same position. It’s a win or go home mentality for both teams, so I think with that being said we’re going to go into this game enthusiastic and excited that we have another opportunity to play on a Saturday. We also have to realize that it’s a win or go home mentality. You have to win this ball game in order to extend our season.”
On turning the rivalry around:
“I think it’s very important for this program to win ball games, especially when it’s your rivals. I was actually doing some personal research today, knowing that this university has lost to Vanderbilt two years in a row, and I just looked at the dominance that Tennessee had over Vanderbilt throughout history. Just to make sure that we bring that prestige back [is important]. They’re a great team and have a lot to fight for.”
On if his perception of Vanderbilt has changed:
“Not really, no. I grew up knowing a lot about the University of Tennessee football program, mainly because both of my parents went here. I’ve been a fan growing up in Knoxville, so I always knew that it was a rivalry. Back when I grew up, Tennessee really never lost to Vanderbilt, and these last two years we’ve taken losses. So, I think it’s important that we focus on this ball game – and like everyone says, it’s very important. It’s the only game we have left. That speaks volumes for how the rest of the season will go if we win or lose this ball game.”