VANDERBILT

Vanderbilt football mailbag: Do Commodores have chance vs. Tennessee Vols?

Aria Gerson
Nashville Tennessean

Vanderbilt football notched its second straight SEC win on Saturday, beating Florida, 31-24, at FirstBank Stadium.

Now, the Commodores (5-6, 2-5 SEC) need only to beat No. 5 Tennessee (9-2, 5-2) this week to reach bowl eligibility.

The win was a significant step for Vanderbilt, which had not beaten the Gators at home since 1988. Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea said at the beginning of the season that bowl eligibility was the goal for this team. Now, it's on the table.

But the Commodores will be heavy underdogs against Tennessee, the Vols' loss to South Carolina on Saturday notwithstanding.

The Tennessean answers reader questions about the win and looking forward:

Is there literally any chance the Dores' pull off the upset next week? -Spencer Raines

The analytics would say no. ESPN's Football Power Index would favor Tennessee by 20 points, and SP+ would favor the Vols by 24.

But there's a rub — Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker was injured on Saturday, and if he can't go, it could significantly dampen Tennessee's offense. Backup Joe Milton has a big arm, but he's not as consistent as Hooker is. An offense with Milton could look something akin to Florida's with Anthony Richardson, but with added tempo. Vanderbilt game-planned well for Richardson, so that's where things could get weird.

Another question is whether the Vols, after seeing their playoff hopes shattered in the loss to the Gamecocks, will be as motivated and confident as they were in prior games.

Lots of SEC teams are bowl eligible now. Are there enough bowl slots if VU should make it to 6-6? - Bryan Barnes

Yes. An SEC team that gets to six wins is not going to be left out of a bowl, even if that team has to get a "leftover" bid that another conference couldn't fill.

Last season, every SEC team except Vanderbilt was bowl eligible, and all of them went to bowls. This year, there is already at least one team — Texas A&M — that won't be going to a bowl, and Auburn and Missouri are also still looking for a sixth win in the final week. Thus, it's quite possible fewer SEC teams will be playing in bowls than there were a year ago.

ATTENDANCE ISSUESVanderbilt football coach Clark Lea asked about lagging attendance ahead of Tennessee game

HIGH STAKESVanderbilt football has earned its shot at Tennessee — and the stakes are high

REPORT CARDVanderbilt football grades vs. Florida: Making sense of another streak-busting win

Combined, Swann and Wright have thrown 22 TDs and just 6 INTs. To what is this unexpectedly strong and efficient performance best attributed? - RepublicanDore

It's credit to the coaching staff, which has done a good job developing both quarterbacks this year and helping play to their strengths. It's also credit to the players themselves, particularly Wright, who stayed engaged even when he was benched. Offensive line coach AJ Blazek also has worked wonders with that group even after three rotational players went down with injuries.

Although the offensive execution has been up and down throughout the season on the part of both the quarterbacks and other skill players, the playcalling as of late has done a good job at playing to the strengths of its personnel. For instance, Gavin Schoenwald's touchdown play looked like a run-pass option where Florida's linebacker goes to close a hole for a potential Ray Davis run play. Schoenwald then faked a block for a Wright keeper before running a route; Wright found him wide open in the end zone.

Plays like that force the defense to consider all the playmakers on the offense and also allow for a relatively simple read: Wright sees the linebacker coming to plug the run, so he rolls right and can find Schoenwald open.

Will any injured (offensive linemen) return for the final game? -AD

Lea said Bradley Ashmore is out for the season, and Ben Cox is probably also out for the season. Xavier Castillo might be able to return against Tennessee.

Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at agerson@gannett.com or on Twitter @aria_gerson.