Via UT Media Relations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee football team was back at practice at Haslam Field on Monday ready to prepare for its final opponent of the 2018 regular season. The Vols travel to Nashville to face the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network). With both teams at 5-6, the winner will become bowl eligible.
More than just a bowl, the Vols will be playing for pride.
“This game means a whole lot to a whole lot of people and probably since the Florida loss or the Georgia loss, we’ve been playing for pride,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “To me, you can talk about winning a championship or whatever, but pride is about as important as it gets.”
Vanderbilt is led by fifth-year head coach Derek Mason. The Commodores have a four-year starter at quarterback in senior Kyle Shurmur and an experienced offensive line that returned all five starters and the top two reserves from the 2017 team.
The Commodores are coming off a 36-29 overtime win against Ole Miss where they gave up 578 yards, but controlled the clock, tallied two interceptions and blocked a punt that led to a safety. Redshirt junior running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn – a transfer from Illinois – had his third straight 100-yard rushing game against the Rebels.
Following a 50-17 loss to Missouri in Neyland Stadium, the Vols will need to regroup against their in-state foe. UT will need to snap the two-game losing streak to Vanderbilt to reach a bowl and send the 13 Tennessee seniors out on a high note.
“I think it’s important for our players,” Pruitt said. “It’s going to be important for our senior class to end with a win against Vanderbilt. I think it’s important for everyone associated with our program to raise our level of play. We’ve had opportunities to do that a couple of times this year and in my opinion have not necessarily played at our best. That’s on us as coaches to get everybody in our program to be at their best.
“It’s a great opportunity for us. It’s a chance to possibly have a winning record and anytime you have positive things going on, I think it’s going to help you in recruiting.”
The Vols will hold a morning practice on Thanksgiving before coaches will host players at their houses for dinner. Tennessee will also have an all-staff Thanksgiving lunch on Friday before traveling to Nashville.
On Monday, Pruitt said what he was thankful for in his press conference.
“I’m thankful for my family,” Pruitt said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity that I have here at the University of Tennessee, the staff that’s here that works with us, our players, our administration, our fanbase. I told the kids Saturday during the Vol Walk, I wanted them to look around and see so they had an understanding of what the passion is for the program that we all represent and the obligation that we have to the people that came before us and the people that are going to come after us.”