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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Behind Enemy Bylines: Tennessee Volunteers

The Hustler goes Behind Enemy Bylines, interviewing Ryan Schumpert, co-Sports Editor of The Daily Beacon, to preview Vanderbilt’s matchup with Tennessee.
Vanderbilt+plays+at+Tennessee+on+Saturday%2C+November+25%2C+2017.+The+Commodores+won+42-24.+%28Photo+by+Claire+Barnett%29
Claire Barnett
Vanderbilt plays at Tennessee on Saturday, November 25, 2017. The Commodores won 42-24. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Despite a depleted depth chart, Vanderbilt plans to play its first game since Nov. 28 on Saturday. But this one, according to players like wide receiver Chris Pierce, means a bit more—because the Tennessee Volunteers are coming to town.

While Vanderbilt (0-8) is still in search of its first win, Tennessee is not in much better shape. The Volunteers’ season has been plagued by quarterbacking troubles, and the in-state rivals boast just a 2-6 record in 2020. 

Prior to kickoff, The Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines and interviewed Ryan Schumpert, co-Sports Editor of The Daily Beacon, to preview Vanderbilt’s matchup with Tennessee.

Vanderbilt Hustler: Tennessee has rotated in three quarterbacks since the season began. Why have the Volunteers struggled to stick with one starter, and who’s going to play Saturday against Vanderbilt?

Ryan Schumpert: To answer the first question, it’s really just been bad, bad quarterback play. They haven’t found anyone that can play particularly well for an extended period of time. With all that being said, Jarrett Guarantano has basically been the starter all season up until last week and no one has really played a whole lot other than in the fourth quarter when Tennessee is down multiple possessions. However, I don’t expect Jarrett Guarantano to be the starter on Saturday. I think it will be Harrison Bailey or J.T. Shrout.

You’d think that with a 2-6 team, you’d go with the young freshman in Harrison Bailey to start building for next year. But this is a game that if [head coach] Jeremy Pruitt doesn’t win, his chances of getting fired go up exponentially. Pruitt has shown he doesn’t really care about building towards next year, and J.T. Shrout played better last week.

I’m not 100 percent positive who’s going to start. I think it can be either [Shrout or Bailey]. I think we will probably see both guys either way because there really isn’t one that has taken the reins of the job.  

All season, Vanderbilt’s weakest link has been its secondary. Are you confident in Shrout and/or Bailey’s ability to exploit the secondary?

No, not really. Some of that is because of Tennessee’s receivers, who aren’t really great. They have Josh Palmer, who’s a legitimate SEC starter—a good deep threat and probably Tennessee’s most successful target—and Jalin Hyatt has some burners. But there’s not much else.

In addition, like I said, you have to just wonder who’s going to get those guys the ball. Bailey last week seemed like a smart player, but didn’t really connect on a whole lot of long passes. That doesn’t seem to be the strength of that game. But that is Shrout’s strength. He’s really been on time with his passes, but for [Shrout], it’s more of the mental stuff. He doesn’t always make the right reads. 

With as bad as Tennessee’s passing game has been, it’s hard for me to say that I’m confident they’ll exploit Vanderbilt’s passing defense well. As well as Tennessee ran the ball last year against Vanderbilt with Eric Gray, I assume that’s going to be their gameplan heading into this year’s game. 

Eric Gray had a career game against the Commodores last season. How would you assess his performance so far this season, and do you think he could do it again on Saturday?

That was definitely his coming out party [last year against Vanderbilt]. He hadn’t really done a ton up until that point last year. He played a little, but not a lot.

It’s certainly possible that he has another big game. That said, if you go back and look at those runs he had against Vandy last year, the holes were just massive. I don’t think he got touched on two of them, including the 94-yard run. A lot of this will fall on the offensive line, and Tennessee’s line has been good at run-blocking, but bad at pass-blocking. It’s kind of crazy how big a difference there is between their run and pass blocking.

This season, I’d say he’s had a pretty good year, but he just doesn’t fit Tennessee’s offense very well. Because Tennessee wants to run the ball between the tackles and use a physical, power running game, and that’s not really his game. That power is just not his game. He’s certainly a big-play threat, though. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him break another few 40-plus yard runs. 

One of Tennessee’s early-season wins came over the Missouri Tigers, who are now ranked No. 25 in the AP Poll and routed Vanderbilt 41-0 two weeks ago. What went well in that game? How were the Volunteers able to pull off the win, and why hasn’t it been the same since?

As soon as I saw that Missouri got ranked the other night, my first thought was that Coach Pruitt is going to be selling the athletic department on that win by season’s end; he’s going to show his ranked win over Missouri. 

But in that game, unlike the rest, they were able to just run the ball down Missouri’s throat. I think they scored 35 points, and 28 were on rushing touchdowns, the other was on a screen to running back Eric Gray. I don’t think they threw for more than 150 yards, so offensively, it was as simple as just running the ball.

Defensively, I will say that was while Shawn Robinson was still starting [at quarterback for Missouri]. Then in the second half, they moved to [then-backup quarterback] Connor Bazelak, who has been starting ever since. And obviously, Bazelak is way better, but they were already down by a couple touchdowns by the time he came in. Bazelak threw a redzone pickoff late in the game, too. Basically, Tennessee was able to run an easy, mistake-free offensive scheme, while Missouri’s offense looked nothing like it does now.  

Do you think Tennessee’s secondary has been its downfall, at least on the defensive side? And do you think Ken Seals and Vanderbilt’s offense can give the secondary trouble?

Yeah, I absolutely do. I think that’s definitely an area to exploit. I actually think the biggest weakness of Tennessee’s defense is their pass rush. They really cannot bring it, and they haven’t been able to all year. And on top of all of that, their best pass rusher, Kivon Bennett, got kicked off the team two weeks ago for selling drugs and having a gun. 

With the secondary, it’s kind of odd. They’re not terrible, but they’re not great. The safeties aren’t very good, but the worst part is the linebackers. The linebackers are really, really bad against the pass, and they have struggled all season in pass coverage. Teams have been able to attack Tennessee really well over the middle because of that; they’ve run a lot of slant routes, a lot of crossing routes, and it’s given Tennessee a lot of problems.

On top of all of that, I know Vanderbilt’s got some good receivers. Cam Johnson is a really good player from what I’ve been able to see. I think Vanderbilt will really be able to move the ball through the air, and for Tennessee, it’s going to be about not giving up the big, explosive plays and making the Commodores earn it consistently. 

Score prediction?

I think Vanderbilt is going to cover. That 16.5-point spread feels like a lot to me. I don’t even think Tennessee’s offense can score 30 points against the Brentwood Blaze AAA team. 

I’ll go with Tennessee 27, Vanderbilt 21. I think Tennessee wins, but I think it will be a pretty competitive game.

The contents of this interview have been edited for clarity and length.

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About the Contributors
Simon Gibbs, Former Sports Editor
Simon Gibbs (‘21) is the former Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since the first semester of his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Senior Writer and Deputy Sports Editor. Simon is also the host of VU Sports Wired on Vanderbilt Video Productions and The Hustler Sports 30 on VandyRadio. Simon has attended several events as credentialed media, including the 2019 NFL Draft, 2019 College Baseball World Series and the 2019 SEC Tournament. Outside of his Commodore coverage, Simon has had bylines published on NHL.com and NashvillePredators.com. When he's not writing, you can find Simon watching his hometown New York Mets, waiting for that next ring. For tips, comments or concerns, please reach out to: [email protected]    
Claire Barnett, Former Multimedia Director
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