Hearing Rocky Top and seeing orange T-shirts makes T.J. Greenstone nauseous.
Of course being on the losing end of the last four Tennessee-Vanderbilt football games probably doesn’t help either.
That should be enough to motivate Greenstone and the rest of his Vanderbilt teammates for Saturday’s home game against Tennessee. If not, the fact that the Volunteers have won 26 of the last 27 meetings ought to be sufficient fuel for Vanderbilt’s fire.
“In the state of Tennessee, for Vanderbilt fans and UT fans alike I think there is a mutual dislike or hatred between the two teams for sure,” Greenstone, a junior defensive tackle, said. “I know some of the players over there and they are getting up just as much as we are.”
Tennessee leads the all-time series 71-28-5 and its only loss in nearly three decades came in 2005.
While UT fans might find their games with Alabama, Florida and Georgia more intriguing, the Volunteers insist this is still near the top of their rivalry list.
“It is definitely hard to say it is just another game,” Tennessee linebacker and Farragut native Nick Reveiz said. “It is Vanderbilt and they are an in-state rival. We know they are extremely excited to play us and we are extremely excited to play them.”
If Tennessee needed for a reason to get pumped up for Vanderbilt, here is one: win or lose the chance at becoming bowl eligible.
After winning their last two games, the Volunteers are 4-6 and just two wins away from earning the right to play in a postseason contest. One loss – either against Vanderbilt or next week against Kentucky – will keep them from going to their second straight bowl and fourth in the last five years.
“It definitely would mean a lot,” Tennessee running back Tauren Poole said. “It would just show our character, the character of this football team and how we just overcame adversity. Nobody expected to lose as much as we lost but we have bounced back and it just shows how tough we are.”
The Volunteers (4-6, 1-5 SEC) might not even be thinking about bowl eligibility if it wasn’t for quarterback Tyler Bray’s performances the last two games.
The freshman took over the starting duties from Matt Simms nearly two weeks ago against Memphis and torched the Tigers for 325 yards and five touchdowns. He then threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns against Mississippi last weekend.
He is the first Tennessee quarterback to throw for 300-plus yards in his first two career starts. Casey Clausen in 2001 was the last Vol to have consecutive 300-yard games.
“(Bray) has shown a lot of good signs for us and we hope he can continue to play the way he has played the last two weeks,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “I think he has always been a confident guy… What I have been impressed with is he doesn’t get affected when things don’t go his way or he misses a throw or he throws an interception. He stays the course and he keeps his aggressive style and I think that is what has allowed him to keep playing better.”
Vanderbilt (2-8, 1-6) will try to slow Bray down, though the Commodores haven’t fared well against pass-happy teams.
Their pass defense (241 yards per game) ranks 10th in the SEC. There was a three-game stretch against Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas in which they gave up at least 300 passing yards in each contest. They have done better in their last two games, and held Kentucky to just 239 passing yards last week.
Vanderbilt couldn’t stop Kentucky’s big plays though, giving up 263 yards on just four plays.
“We kind of let the game get one-sided there at the end,” Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell said.
That has been a reoccurring theme for the Commodores lately. They play one good quarter or even a solid half but can’t seem to put a whole game together. Obviously, a plethora of injuries they have sustained hasn’t helped anything.
Still, Vanderbilt would like nothing more than to put a complete game together against cross-state rival Tennessee. Bowl eligibility isn’t on the line for the Commodores nor is salvaging a forgettable season. A win over the Volunteers, though, would be the highlight of 2010.
“I listen to the people in the state and our people - it is a great joy to hear them talk about the few times that we have beaten Tennessee. There is an excitement in their eyes when they talk about it,” Caldwell said. “We certainly are going to get after it. We are working harder than ever right now, trying to prepare for it.”
• Vanderbilt wide receiver Udom Umoh will not have to sit out the first half of Saturday’s game.
Umoh was ejected during the second half against Kentucky last weekend after an altercation with Kentucky defensive back Martavius Neloms.
Under NCAA rules, the penalty for an ejection is a first-half suspension in the next game. But Caldwell said on Monday that Vanderbilt would appeal the suspension because he believed Umoh was just swiping a hand off his facemask. SEC officials agreed and the suspension was waived.
• Defensive end Walker May (ankle) did not practice Wednesday and is expected to miss his second straight game. Running back Wesley Tate (ankle) and tight end Fitz Lassing (mononucleosis) are both probable for Saturday’s game.