Hot Vanderbilt takes aim at wounded Tennessee

Friday, November 25, 2022, Vol. 46, No. 47

While we’re on the topic of the difference a week can make, the Vanderbilt Commodores look to make it three memorable weeks in a row when they face the Volunteers Saturday at FirstBank Stadium on the Vanderbilt campus.

It’s been since just after the midterm elections of 2018 that the Dores strung together two back-to-back Southeastern Conference wins. Vandy took down Ole Miss and Tennessee in late November that season to become bowl-eligible, the last time the Black and Gold defeated UT and had a postseason game, a 45-38 loss to Baylor in the Texas Bowl.

The intervening four years have yielded mostly frustration for Vanderbilt, with sub-.500 seasons each year and a coaching change from Derek Mason to Clark Lea. But what many SEC pundits thought was going to be a long, slow rebuilding process, with the upheaval of college football rosters brought on by the transfer portal and N.I.L. opportunities, has brought about results a lot quicker than expected.

The Commodores enter their cross-state rivalry game with unexpected momentum after consecutive conference wins against Kentucky on the road and Florida at home. With a win against the suddenly reeling Vols, Vandy would find itself in the bowl mix for the first time in Lea’s tenure, a significant jump-up from last year’s 2-10 record.

One of Lea’s keywords during his short tenure has been “process,” and part of that process seems to be not adding any fuel to the fire of a suddenly relevant rivalry.

When asked at his post-Florida media availability if he had a message to fans about not letting orange-clad visitors pack Vandy’s stadium this weekend, Lea gave an answer unlikely to be posted to UT bulletin boards anytime soon.

“That’s not a part of my job,” Lea said. “I’m preparing the team and hopefully people are paying attention to what we’re doing and all we can do is focus on what’s inside this program, focus on each other and what we’re building here.

“Over time, people will take notice of that,” he continued. “We’re gonna put our energy on our performance so that we can strengthen and be ready for a great fight next weekend. Anything outside of that is not gonna be part of our goals.”

– Lucas Hendrickson