By Jimmy Hyams
For only the second time in his coaching career, Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt’s last regular-season game won’t have a league championship or playoff implication on the line when the Vols visit Vanderbilt on Saturday.
That’s frustrating to him. And it’s frustrating to the fan base.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction,’’ Pruitt told the Knoxville Quarterback Club earlier this week. “We’re not going near as fast as I want to go, probably not near as fast as you want to go.
“But I promise you, we share the same disappointments and we’re going to work as hard as we can to get it where it’s supposed to be.’’
Where it’s not supposed to be is where it is now. Vanderbilt has won four of the last six games against the Vols. During a 52-game stretch (1960-2011) Vanderbilt won four times against UT.
Vanderbilt enters the game as a 3-point favorite. If The Commodores win for the fifth time in seven years, much of the goodwill Pruitt has built this season will be forgotten by many in the Vol Nation.
Because if you have enough talent to beat ranked opponents Auburn and Kentucky, surely you have enough talent to beat Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt is led by quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who has been Tom Brady-like in the past two games against UT, passing for 416 yards two years ago and four touchdowns last year. He is second all-time in school history to Jay Cutler in passing yards and total offense.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn is one of the SEC’s most underrated running backs. He has 976 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games. He has averaged over 155 rushing yards in the last three games, but he had just one 100-yard game in the first seven.
Receiver Kalija Lipscomb is having a banner year with 73 catches for 800 yards and nine touchdowns.
Vandy has a balanced attack, averaging 162.8 rushing yards and 228.6 passing yards. Teams with balance – like Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri – have given the Vols fits.
I don’t see UT’s defense slowing down Vandy and I don’t think the Vols can win in a shootout.
Vanderbilt 34, Tennessee 27.
Lasts week: 11-0
Alabama 34-10 over Auburn
Missouri 44-20 over Arkansas
Florida 24-20 over Florida State
Georgia 30-20 over Georgia Tech
Kentucky 37-17 over Louisville
LSU 23-20 over Texas A&M
Mississippi State 34-30 over Ole Miss
Clemson 31-13 over South Carolina