The Commodores (3-8, 1-6 Southeastern Conference) will be seeking their fourth straight victory over the Vols (6-5, 4-3) when they visit Neyland Stadium on Saturday (4 p.m., SEC Network). Vanderbilt’s recent success against its in-state rival marks a stunning shift in an annual series Tennessee has traditionally dominated.
“Being a part of this for the last three years, I think we’ve done a good job in creating an atmosphere where people just don’t look at this game like, ‘OK, Tennessee’s got it,’ ” Vanderbilt receiver Kalija Lipscomb said. “Over the last three years, we’ve made it competitive. Not only did we make it competitive, but we showed Vandy’s just not something you can step over as far as at the season. It’s not just an automatic win.”
Tennessee clinched bowl eligibility last week by winning at Missouri, but Vandy fell out of bowl contention long ago. So the only thing at stake Saturday is whether the Commodores can continue this rivalry’s recent reversal of fortune.
The Vols went 28-1 against the Commodores from 1983-2011, but Vandy has won five of their past seven matchups. The Commodores have beaten UT each of the last three years by an average margin of 18 points, including 38-13 last year.
This marks Vanderbilt’s most successful run in the series since winning six straight over Tennessee from 1920-26.
“I’ve always wanted to beat them and I never got the chance,” Vols safety Nigel Warrior said. “This is Year 4 for me, so I’m going to give it my all.’’
Vanderbilt will have a difficult time extending its streak Saturday.
Tennessee has struggled recently against Vandy primarily because it couldn’t contain quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who completed 72% of his passes for 1,066 yards with nine touchdowns and only one interception against the Vols over the last three years. Shurmur completed his college career last season, and Vandy hasn’t found a suitable replacement.
The Commodores, who have started three different quarterbacks this season, rank last in the SEC in scoring (17.1) and passer rating (102.57). Tennessee has won four straight games and is favored by 22 points this week.
“We’ve just got to make sure we do the little things right so we can be successful Saturday,” UT outside linebacker Darrell Taylor said. “As long as we do those things, I think we’ll definitely come out with the ‘W.’ ”
The Commodores’ best threat has been running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who has rushed for 1,015 yards this season. Vaughn ran for 139 yards and two TDs in a 38-0 rout of East Tennessee State last week.
Vaughn had just six carries against Tennessee last year before leaving the game with an injured left arm and shoulder.
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano struggled early in the season and even lost his starting spot, but he’s come on strong lately.
After thriving in a relief role for a few games, Guarantano made his first start since Sept. 21 last week and threw for 415 yards.
He went 13-of-29 passing for just 139 yards against Vanderbilt last season.
TAYLOR CHASES SACKS TITLE
Taylor has recorded 7½ sacks to give himself a chance to be the SEC leader in that category at the end of the season. Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings, Kentucky’s Calvin Taylor Jr. and Auburn’s Marlon Davidson are currently tied for first place with 7½ sacks each.
TENNESSEE’S RECEIVING TRIO
The Vols have three dangerous receivers in Jauan Jennings (55 catches, 886 yards, 8 TDs), Marquez Callaway (28, 597, 6) and Josh Palmer (28, 389, 1). They each had over 100 yards receiving last week against Missouri — the first time Tennessee’s ever had three 100-yard receivers in the same game.
VANDY’S TENNESSEE STREAK
Vanderbilt has won its last nine games against teams from the state of Tennessee, beating the Vols Middle Tennessee, Tennessee State and ETSU during this streak.