Vanderbilt conquered Rocky Top. The next challenge is the descent.
After whipping Tennessee 41-18 over the weekend, the Commodores must come back to earth for the last regular-season game at Wake Forest on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPNU).
The roles are reversed from a season ago when the teams met in the 2011 regular-season finale. The Demon Deacons had clinched a bowl berth. The Commodores needed one more win. A driven Vanderbilt — with bowl eligibility on the line — delivered its most complete performance of the season, a 41-7 rout.
A year later, Vanderbilt (7-4) has wrapped its spot in the postseason, not to mention a winning record, and Wake Forest (5-6) is the desperate team.
“They’re going to be hungry to get that sixth win so we’re going to get their best,” left guard Josh Jelesky said. “We’re going to bring our best too and try to be ready for them. We’re moving past Tennessee pretty quick. We’ve got a big game this week.”
The schools are near the end of a seven-game football series, that started in 2007 and ends in 2014. Wake Forest ultimately will host four of the games while Vanderbilt holds three.
The first three rotated locations but for the second straight year the Commodores travel to Winston-Salem, N.C.
“I’m completely against it,” second-year coach James Franklin said. “It is one of the strangest things. I’ve never heard of a program in the country going back to the same school.”
Wake Forest is coming off a 38-0 loss to the new No. 1 in the BCS, Notre Dame. The Demon Deacons are stumbling toward the finish line. They’ve lost five of seven and are scoring an ACC-worst 18.3 points a game.
On the flip side, the Commodores ride a five-game winning streak. The last time they won six in a row was 1955.
“We definitely have a lot of momentum, coming off the victories that we had,” cornerback Trey Wilson said. “But we can’t let that get to our head and change our focus. We still have to approach it one game at a time and worry about the things we need to do from a Vanderbilt standpoint to take care of business.”
• Bell rung: Kicker Carey Spear threw caution to the wind when he rammed into 6-foot-3, 205-pound Cordarrelle Patterson in the third quarter on Saturday.
The Tennessee wide receiver toppled over but so did Spear, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds. Athletic trainers rushed out to the junior captain, who appeared woozy after delivering the big hit before walking off.
This wasn’t a first for Spear, who has 14 tackles in the last two years.
“He’s crazy,” Wilson said. “He’s not your typical specialist. He wants to be treated as a football player, not just a kicker. ... You saw when he got up even some of their players were patting him on the head. You’ve got to respect somebody who is willing to fly down the field full-speed and put their body on the line like that.”
Spear also set Vanderbilt's single-season field goal record with 17, including two against Tennessee. Teammate Ryan Fowler (2009) shared the previous mark of 16 with Ricky Anderson (1984).
• Hal honored: Vanderbilt cornerback Andre Hal was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week.
The junior intercepted two passes and made five tackles against Tennessee. Both of his takeaways led to touchdowns. Hal ranks second in the SEC with 13 pass breakups.
It marked the sixth time — and third consecutive week — a Vanderbilt player has earned a weekly honor this year.