Ahead of No. 10 Tennessee’s final regular season game against Vanderbilt, The Daily Beacon talked with The Vanderbilt Hustler’s Andrew Wilf, who previewed the Commodores heading into Saturday’s matchup.
Questions: What is the vibe around campus heading into this game? Does an upset seem attainable?
Answer: “I think we’re still riding really high on Saturday, but obviously the team is focused on Tennessee. But we’re just happy as students to be in contention for a bowl game. Obviously even if we lose, there is a chance we still make it based on APR, which is academic progress rate. A lot of students are confident because, if you flash back two and a half weeks ago, Vanderbilt loses to South Carolina in demoralizing fashion and the assistant coach, who is the secondary coach, supported Kanye West via social media, and there was so much turmoil and so much chaos on West End, which is our street on Vanderbilt. Everyone was like ‘nothing good is going to happen.’ And then you have a really great win against Kentucky, first SEC win in three seasons, and then a week later you beat Richardson and the Gators. There’s so much momentum, but on paper I think anyone would say Tennessee is going to win, but I really think Vanderbilt is looking at this game like their Super Bowl and I think students are too. I don’t think a lot of students are going to fly back from Thanksgiving break to go on Saturday because obviously we go to a hard school and everyone’s studying for exams, and everyone wants to relax. But I do think there will be a good amount of black and gold – and it will be less orange than there usually is.”
Q: What was the win against Florida like from your perspective?
A: “I’d say it’s the biggest win that I’ve been a part of. I’m a junior, it’s certainly the biggest win. Kentucky, you win against a ranked team in Kentucky, but to do it again shows that Clark Lea’s message is really getting through to these kids. And a lot of the times on four or five game losing streaks, you sometimes lose the locker room, and they just haven’t done that. We had a bit of a storming the field – not quite like what you guys had against Alabama – but we had our version of it. Although it might be kind of made fun of on social media, to have an opportunity to really feel like you’re a part of the SEC and not the laughing stock for one or two or three weeks, it’s a great feeling. And it’s a really great feeling to know that these athletes that we’re in classes with and are a part of the community are really succeeding on the field.”
Q: This has been one of the most successful seasons for Vandy in recent years. How are the players and coaches feeling about this season?
A: “You see direction. When you see a lot of college football coaches – you saw it with your coach, and you’ve seen it with Kirby Smart and Georgia a few weeks back. Rebuilding doesn’t happen overnight. It’s years and years. We had not won an SEC game before this season since 2019. Clark Lea has a message that he wants to develop a championship culture, and that takes time. But with having good recruits and winning there is a sense of consistency and it’s really exciting to see that, suddenly, there is a sense of direction. We have a really solid recruiting class, we have a young quarterback that’s injured right now that has a lot of talent, we have a quarterback in Mike Wright that has really taken command of this offense. And it’s good to know that there’s a sense of incline for the team no matter what happens on Saturday.”
Q: What is your score prediction and how do you think it will play out?
A: “Even after the past two weeks, I’ve said that Vanderbilt is going to lose, and I’m saying they’re going to lose again. As a junior I always have a healthy amount of pessimism. I think Vanderbilt loses a close one though. Closer than you said, I’m going to say 34-21. Although Hendon’s out, your backup quarterback is a dual threat and I saw him at Michigan. He can do things that, for a depleted defensive line, will be tough to maintain. What we need to do is continue to use our running back Rae Davis, who is just under 40 yards away from having a 1,000-yard season. We need to continue to pound the ball and really use running as our form of success.”