No. 21 Tennessee aims to continue its domination of Vanderbilt when the in-state rivals close out the Southeastern Conference season on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.
The Volunteers have won the last four games in the rivalry by a combined score of 171-48, including last year’s 56-0 pasting of the Commodores in Nashville.
Tennessee (7-4, 3-4) comes off a lopsided 36-7 loss at Missouri followed by last week’s 38-10 home setback against Georgia. The Vols allowed 530 yards to the Tigers and 472 to the Bulldogs.
Those results sparked a call for change at quarterback, where Joe Milton has not met expectations in SEC play with eight touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Fans may be clamoring to see No. 1 recruit Nico Iamaleava replace Milton, but head coach Josh Heupel isn’t likely to change signal-callers.
Iamaleava has completed 7 of 14 throws for 97 yards this season, all coming in garbage time of lopsided wins over UConn, UTSA and Virginia.
Heupel said before the season that he hadn’t planned to redshirt Iamaleava, one of two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. However, not playing him the past two weeks has preserved that redshirt.
Heupel also hinted at additional reasons for that decision.
Last Saturday, Tennessee played against Georgia without a pair of starting offensive linemen in tackle John Campbell Jr. and guard Anrej Karic. Starting lineman Javontez Spraggins also suffered a season-ending injury during the game, while a banged-up Gerald Mincey (the Vols’ other starting tackle) came in late.
“Well, at this point, just because there’s only one regular-season (game left), you know, I mean?” Heupel said. “There’s a lot of variables that are taking place outside on that field (Saturday). And what type of situation you want to put (Iamaleava in).”
The Commodores (2-9, 0-7), losers of nine straight, were off last week. They looked disinterested in the second half of a 47-6 shellacking at South Carolina two weeks ago.
“I’m still disgusted and I still feel like it was gross. … What I felt is, the team collapsed there,” coach Clark Lea said this week, reflecting on how Vanderbilt played against the Gamecocks.
Lea, a Nashville native and Vanderbilt alumnus who has played against the Vols, hopes his team will end 2023 on a better note.
“We’ve had a good two days (of practice), which we need to have in order to play better on Saturday,” Lea said on Tuesday.
Vanderbilt’s defense is last in the SEC in scoring defense (35.1) and total defense (440.2 yards). Health has been an issue in the secondary, where Lea said defensive backs Martel Hight, Marlen Sewell and Savion Riley are questionable this week.
Lea added that the flu had spread throughout the roster this week. Safety CJ Taylor was among those infected before returning to practice.
Lea declined to name a starting quarterback this week. Vanderbilt lists starters Ken Seals and Walter Taylor as co-starters this week, with AJ Swann the No. 3.
Seals and Swann have split time as starters, with Seals starting the last six contests.
Taylor has played against Ole Miss, Auburn and South Carolina. He didn’t attempt a pass against the Gamecocks but ran six times for 38 yards on a rain-soaked day.
–Field Level Media