Volunteer State Vendetta
By Dan Harralson
Volunteer State bragging rights will be at stake Saturday inside Neyland Stadium.
The Vanderbilt game represents more than that for Butch Jones and his Tennessee Volunteers, which need two wins to go bowling.
The Vols football program is in one of its worst stretches in school history with three consecutive losing seasons, four in five years and five in eight years.
A win would place Tennessee in contention for a bowl appearance and highlight its presence as the prominent football program in the Volunteer State. Tennessee has not lost to Vanderbilt many times over the years, but in 2013 the in-state game has transitioned into a rivalry. James Franklin has turned Commodores football into a respected program and Vanderbilt is enjoying its best stretch of football since the 1940s.
Accessing Josh Dobbs
This is a new Volunteers football team with Josh Dobbs as the Tennessee signal caller. The true freshman quarterback, inserted into game action at Alabama due to Justin Worley's injury, has played the three best SEC teams (according to standings) in his three appearances.
Against Alabama, Missouri and Auburn, Dobbs has aired it out 79 times in two and a half games, while Justin Worley averaged 28 passing attempts in his seven games. To allow an equal number of throws against the three best teams in the conference shows confidence in Dobbs.
Dobbs needs to be a presence in the run game. Jones' offense showcased the quarterback running the read option at Cincinnati and Central Michigan. It's unfair to judge Dobbs' run game against Alabama as he entered in the second half facing a big deficit, and against Auburn, the Vols fell behind early and the game plan did the same.
The Stingy Vanderbilt Defense
Dobbs will need to exploit the Vanderbilt defense, but it may be a tough task. The Commodores enter Saturday's game statistically with the nation's 19th-best overall defense.
Vanderbilt is giving up 333 yards per game and the only teams nationally that have given up less than 300 yards per game are Alabama, Florida State, BYU, Michigan State, Florida and Bowling Green.
Dobbs will need to be able to read the defense in determining when to check from a pass or run play. Vanderbilt is efficient in both of these departments ranking 48th nationally in pass defense and 41st in rush defense. Franklin coaches a sound defense and we will see how well Dobbs can read the disguises Vanderbilt will throw at him.
The 12th Man
Neyland Stadium needs to be rocking Saturday night to help dictate the flow of the game for Tennessee. Vanderbilt has lost four games this season and two of the losses have been on the road. Vanderbilt's lone conference road win came at Florida against a mediocre Gators team inside a quiet Swamp. The Commodores have dropped games at South Carolina and Texas A&M and it will be interesting to see how Franklin's 'Dores respond to the Rocky Top Rowdies since the black and gold have not played well in front of a loud crowd.
Monday With Butch
On Franklin's Vanderbilt program
"I've known Coach Franklin for a while. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he's done at Vanderbilt."
On Dobbs' role within the offense
"As Dobbs continues to progress mentally and physically, we'd like to involve him more in the QB run game."
On who comes in if Dobbs has to leave the game
"If Dobbs' helmet comes off and has to miss a play or two it will be Nathan Peterman at QB."
On Vanderbilt's defense
"They're really talented in the back end of the defense. They do some things that will challenge you offensively."
On the continuation of building the program at Tennessee
"I'm focusing on the process. We've taken monumental strides since Dec. 7. It's going to take hard work. It doesn't happen overnight. I'm as encouraged and optimistic as I've ever been."