Tennessee football vs. Vanderbilt: 10 keys to the game

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Nov 6, 2021; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Tennessee Volunteers running back Tiyon Evans (8) and tight end Hunter Salmon (89) celebrate with wide receiver Cedric Tillman (4) after he scored a touchdown during the fourth quarter to put the Tennessee Volunteers ahead 44-35 against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

A lot is on the line for Tennessee football when they take the field for the final time this regular season against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Most importantly, they can guarantee themselves a winning record Josh Heupel’s first year on the job, something that seemed completely out of the realm of possibility when he took over given all the program’s issues.

On paper, it seems as if the Vols should have no problem getting that seventh win, as Vandy is 2-9, 0-7 in the SEC and hasn’t beaten a Power Five foe all year under its own first-year head coach, Clark Lea. However, anything can happen, and the Vols don’t want that to be the case here.

As we get set to break down the factors that will decide the outcome of this game, a lot of it is about the situational defense of UT vs. the situational offense of Vandy. That will determine whether or not the ‘Dores have a chance. Let’s break that down along with everything else in our 10 keys to Tennessee football’s Senior Day matchup.

10. Big plays by Vols’ offense

Although they have lost the time of possession battle on average for the year, Vanderbilt is capable of maintaining the ball for long periods of time in the right circumstances. Given how the Vols don’t really care about time of possession but rather about tempo, that could create a huge disparity when these two teams face off Saturday.

What’s the key to that? Well, as they showed against the Kentucky Wildcats, it’s big plays by UT. Two 70-plus yard touchdown passes, a little 37-yard touchdown run made the difference in the 45-42 win there. A pick-six by the defense helped out as well.

Despite struggling at preventing big plays earlier in the year, Vandy has recently forced teams to be more methodical with the ball. Last week, the Ole Miss Rebels had to move the ball for all their scores. That’s not how Tennessee football plays, and if they’re forced into that scenario, they could be in trouble. As a result, once again, Heupel needs the big plays to take over the game.

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