Bobby Johnson admits that there’s something about this weekend’s game. He just hopes the result won’t the be same as its been 31 of the last 33 times.
“Every game, you get fired up if it’s an SEC game,” the Vanderbilt coach said Monday. “… But just certain words, certain people, certain colors — it makes a difference.”
The Commodores will conclude their 2009 season Saturday when they take on the University of Tennessee (6 p.m., Neyland Stadium). It will be the first meeting between the in-state rivals since Lane Kiffin took over at UT.
VU is 2-9 overall (0-7 in the SEC), which means it’s far too late to save the season. But it’s not too soon to think about the offseason.
“It’s an extremely important week for our football program to have a positive ending and lead us into the offseason and a positive feeling for spring practice,” Johnson said. “I think our guys will work extremely hard this week to get ready and to get a win in Knoxville. That’s a tough thing to do. It’s a tough place to play.”
Vanderbilt’s last victory over the Volunteers came on the road in 2005. The Commodores also won there in 1975 but lost every time in between – regardless of location – with the exception of a 28-21 victory in Nashville in 1982.
This contest will complete a stretch of 12 games in 12 weeks, which has taken a physical toll.
“Even though there’s maybe not that many out right now, we’re banged up and beat up and have guys going in there and playing hurt,” Johnson said. “ …You just play what you got. That’s what you do – you do the best you can with what you got.”
The latest injury concern is to linebacker Patrick Benoist, who was knocked from last Saturday’s 24-13 loss to Kentucky shortly before halftime with a concussion. Johnson said that Benoist never lost consciousness and that subsequent tests revealed no damage, but as of Monday afternoon the senior captain was not symptom free.
Benoist is the Commodores’ second-leading tackler with 85 and one of just two VU players with at least one sack, interception and fumble recovery this season.
“Patrick is a really good player, and not only a really good player but a good leader,” Johnson said. “ … The rest of our defense has a lot of confidence in him and what he does. If we don’t have him it’s going to be a blow to us, no matter how well the people we put in his place play.”
Johnson, however, was equally confident about what a boost it would be to defeat Tennessee, something he’s done just once in seven tries.
“If you can get a win against a program – you have to admit it – that’s dominated the series in the last 30 years, it’s going to make you feel a whole lot better about your season and hopefully give us some validation for some of the things we think we’re improving on.”