By: Randy Moore
Every year at this time we hear what a heated rivalry Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt is. Oh, really?
If you beat your best friend at checkers 20 times in a row, would you consider that a heated rivalry? If you beat your father in the 40-yard dash 20 times in a row, would you really expect him to win race No. 21? If you beat your wife at Scrabble 20 times in a row, do you think she'd even show up for game No. 21?
The answers, of course, are no, no and no. That's why it's silly to call Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt a heated rivalry. It's a heated MISMATCH. The Commodores can't stand the Vols but they can't beat them, either. One loss to UT could be dismissed as a fluke. Two losses in a row could be dismissed as a disappointing trend. Three losses in a row could be written off as a down cycle. But 20 losses in a row to the same opponent is domination and humiliation.
Do you realize that the last time Vandy beat Tennessee -- 28-21 in 1982 -- there had never been one U.S. President named Bush, let alone two?
Do you realize that the last time Vandy beat Tennessee, Johnny Majors was just six years removed from a national title at Pittsburgh?
Do you realize that the last time Vandy beat Tennessee, Don DeVoe was leading the Vol basketball program to its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament... and most UT fans had never heard of Wade Houston, Kevin O'Neill, Jerry Green or Buzz Peterson?
To make Saturday's game look vaguely competitive, Tennessee's football coaches will spend this week warning of ''close calls'' in previous games with Vanderbilt -- a 12-7 win in '95, a 14-7 win in '96 and a 17-10 win in '97. Guess what? Woody Widenhofer was calling the shots for the Commodore defense in those days, and he had Peyton Manning's number. Since then, the Vols have beaten the Commodores like a drum -- 41-0 in '98, 38-10 in '99, 38-0 in 2001 and 24-0 last year. The only time Vandy made a game of it was in 2000, when UT won 28-26. The reason? Casey Clausen was a true freshman and the game was played in Nashville.
Clausen's now a senior and this game's being played in Knoxville, where UT hasn't lost to Vandy since 1975 ... when Bill Battle was Tennessee's head coach and Gerald Ford was America's President.
The Vols have much more than history on their side this Saturday, of course. They showed marked improvement the past two weeks, upsetting No. 6 Miami and then putting a 59-21 whipping on Mississippi State -- a team which, coincidentally, beat Vanderbilt earlier this fall. Clausen has been razor sharp of late, and some of his young receivers (notably Jason Swain and Chris Hannon) are starting to emerge as quality pass catchers. Gerald Riggs is beginning to make a mark as a rusher, and UT's defensive backs (particularly Gibril Wilson and Jason Allen) are playing very good football. Dustin Colquitt is the best punter in college football, and James Wilhoit has nailed eight of his last nine field-goal attempts.
Granted, the Commodores are coming off a defeat of Kentucky, but is that such a big deal? After all, Tennessee has beaten the Wildcats 18 times in a row.
But that's enough history for one day. Heck, if you go back far enough, you can find a time when Vanderbilt was competitive with Tennessee ... the 1920s and 1930s.
''Heated'' rivalry? Give me a break.
Doubt the Dores, Risk Your Demise
By: Jeffery Stewart
Some 65 million years ago the most dominate species to ever inhabit Earth vanished in the blink of an eye. After thriving on this planet for 160 million years through every conceivable natural disaster, separation of land masses and incalculable climate changes, the giant reptiles known as dinosaurs suddenly ceased to exist. Their demise allowed the human species to evolve from a small mammal that resembled a rat to homo sapiens which first appeared on the terrestrial scene about 250,000 years ago.
There are a number of theories as to what doomed the dinosaurs, but the most current scientific conjecture centers on catastrophic changes brought about when a meteor struck the planet near what is today known as the Yucatan Peninsula, and threw enough debris in the sky to black out the sun while causing tidal waves of epic proportions.
What we do know for certain is that Earth has been struck numerous times in its history by asteroids and meteors. It was a collision with a comet that created the material that eventually formed our Moon. Astronomers also know that this planet will be struck again. In fact, many believe we are long overdue for such an extra terrestrial impact.
That's not a comforting thought and neither is Tennessee's atypical 20-game winning streak over Vanderbilt, especially if you're a Big Orange fan, who know that a Tennessee loss is overdue in this series. Before UT's current success against Vandy, the Vols longest winning streak in the series dating back to 1892, was nine straight wins. It was a Vanderbilt nine-game winning streak that led Tennessee to hire Bob Neyland with the expressed purpose of beating the Commodores.
Recent history gives rise to further concerns. Vanderbilt is playing better and, unlike Mississippi State, the Dores have plenty of motivation. Some teams talk about how beating a rival would make their season, but an upset on Saturday would make the Commodores millennium.
Vanderbilt's defense has improved during the course of the year and the Commodores have become more competitive. They played Georgia closer than the Vols did and stayed in contention against Gainesville despite four interceptions. Last week they put together enough offense and defense to topple Kentucky and earn their second win of the season.
Sophomore quarterback Jay Cutler poses a dual threat as he proved against the Wildcats by throwing four TDs and rushing for 111 yards. Such quarterbacks have traditionally given Tennessee trouble and the Vols defense, which is shorthanded up front, will be put to the test especially on third down.
It's true Tennessee is also improving, but we still don't know how good the offense is and there's not much to separate the Vols from Vandy where it comes to moving the football. The Commodores are averaging just 2.3 yards less a game than Tennessee. Vanderbilt is converting 38.8 percent of its third downs while UT is converting at a 39.0 percent.
And the Commodores aren't pushovers on defense, allowing 373.6 yards per game to Tennessee's 344 yards per contest. Vandy's top rusher, Norval McKenzie, has gained 615 yards this season. Tennessee's top ground producer, Cedric Houston, has gained 624. Cutler has a passing rating of 134.8 compared to Clausen's 138.4. Cutler has thrown for 2281 yards and 18 touchdowns while Clausen has passed for 2200 yards and 21 TDs.
After winning it's first SEC game after 23 conference losses, the Commodores will come into Saturday's showdown brimming with confidence and they clearly have a ton of incentive.
Conversely, after 20 straight wins over Vanderbilt, Tennessee may come into the game overconfident. That's a dangerous combination against any opponent. Tennessee's saving grace may be the fact it's the last home game for 23 seniors, who don't want to go out on a losing note.
Unfortunately, the only person on Tennessee's current staff who was there the day the Vols last lost to Vandy was head coach Phillip Fulmer. Defensive coordinator John Chavis completed his UT playing career three years before that defeat and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders was still a sophomore in high school. Most of Tennessee's current freshmen weren't even born yet on that rainy November day when the Dores scored a 28-21 win. But those of us who were there will never forget it.
On a personal note: I ruined a leather jacket sitting through four quarters in a downpour and had to have a pair of designer jeans surgically removed just to return the circulation to my legs. But that wasn't the worst of it. Over the next year, Vandy fans continued to celebrate the victory. How bad was it? They even had commemorative mugs commissioned to mark the momentous event. And that was after just six straight losses to Tennessee. Imagine what they would do after ending a 20-game losing streak to the Volunteers. That's reason enough for the Vols to take the Commodores very seriously and why coach Fulmer has his work cut out conveying the urgency of the situation to his team.
I know that eventually an asteroid will strike the Earth and end life as we know it, just as surely one day Vanderbilt will beat Tennessee. I just hope that neither happens in my lifetime.