The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

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.

Three Matchups to Watch: Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee

On the heels of a two-game win streak, can the Commodores make it three against their rivals across I-65?
Miguel Beristain
Ethan Barr against Florida on Nov. 19, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

Things are looking up on West End. After a 3-6 start, the Commodores have clawed out two gutsy wins and now sit just one game away from bowl eligibility. The only thing standing in their way? The Tennessee Volunteers. 

This is a Tennessee team that started the season 8-0 before a rough November saw them drop games to No. 1 Georgia and South Carolina. They also lost their starting quarterback and Heisman frontrunner Hendon Hooker to a torn ACL. All of a sudden, this game has become a lot more winnable for the Black-and-Gold. 

Forget checkering FirstBank Stadium. Forget the Tennessee goal post that’s somewhere downriver in the Tennessee river. Forget the college football playoff rankings. One of these teams is surging, and the other is slipping. What key matchups will define this game? 

Tennessee vs. Its team identity 

This Volunteers squad is littered with talent on both sides of the ball, without a doubt. That said, this team lived and died behind the arm—and legs—of Hooker. Hooker threw for 3,153 yards and 27 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions before his season-ending injury. He added 430 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground. Without Hooker to lead this offense, who will the Volunteers turn to? 

Will they continue to air the ball out and plug Joe Milton III in where Hooker left off? The Volunteers have thrown for 348.8 yards per game this season—the most in the SEC by a wide margin. The passing game has been the heart and soul of this Tennessee team all year, and it’s hard to imagine them going away from that. 

That said, the ground game has been no slack either. The Volunteers are averaging 191.5 rushing yards per game behind the two-headed monster of Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small. While running the ball has not been an offensive focus for them, they’ve done it well all season. 

They’ll likely rely more on the ground attack than they have in weeks past, but they can’t afford to abandon their passing attack. 

Joe Milton vs. Expectations

The fifth-year quarterback has underwhelmed in his career with the Volunteers, beginning as the starter last season before the team turned to Hooker for good. However, Milton III is a special athlete. At 6’5” and 245 pounds, he possesses the physical tools to be an elite quarterback like Hooker. He has an absolute cannon for an arm, but accuracy has been an issue for him. Through his career, he’s completed just 57.1% of his passes. Even worse, last year, he posted a poor 51.6 completion percentage for the Volunteers. 

He has shown improvement this season, albeit in a small sample size. Milton III has thrown for 573 yards and 6 touchdowns on 23-of-33 passing (69.7%) in a limited role this season. He has also played clean football, having yet to turn the ball over. 

Obviously, Milton III has big shoes to fill, and nobody expects him to step in and replace Hooker without missing a beat. But, if Tennessee still has any hope of playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game, it’s up to Milton III to lead the Volunteers to a victory in Nashville. 

Jalin Hyatt vs. Vanderbilt secondary

The Commodores have gotten burnt by elite wide receivers all season. They have allowed the most pass yards in the SEC at 303.2 yards per game. Ole Miss wide receiver Jonathan Mingo caught 9 passes for 247 yards and 2 touchdowns against Vanderbilt. More recently, Florida receiver Deajon Reynolds torched them for 8 catches, 165 yards and 2 scores. Vanderbilt has allowed an opposing team’s receiver to score multiple touchdowns on six different occasions this season, and they face their toughest matchup yet on Saturday with Jalin Hyatt. Hyatt has 64 receptions for 1,181 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. He leads the Power Five in yards and touchdowns. 

The projected first-round pick has multiple receiving touchdowns in five different games this season. See where I’m headed here? 

Hyatt has been a one-man wrecking crew toward secondaries all season, and things project to remain that way this weekend. While it’s unrealistic to expect the Commodores to shut him down entirely, the defensive focus will be on Hyatt. If they can slow him down, it’ll make things a lot harder on Milton III and the rest of the Tennessee passing attack. 

With bowl eligibility on the line, the Commodores will kick things off against Tennessee this Saturday, Nov. 26 at 6:30 p.m. CST at FirstBank Stadium.

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About the Contributors
Aiden Rutman, Senior Staff Writer
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
Miguel Beristain, Senior Staff Photographer
Miguel Beristain (’24) is a philosophy and cellular and molecular biology double major in the College of Arts and Science from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When not shooting for The Hustler, he can usually be found playing Magic the Gathering, exploring new restaurants or practicing guitar. He can be reached at .
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The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
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Mark Morgan
1 year ago

Bruh! I-95 is not an interstate in Tennessee, and the goal posts are in the Tennessee river, NOT the Cumberland! Geography facts are accessible online.

1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Morgan

Thank you for noticing these errors! We are sorry for any confusion or inaccuracy; the piece has been updated.