The Southeastern Conference announced Monday night that it has rearranged this Saturday's football schedule, which includes the postponing of the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game in Nashville.
Vanderbilt will instead play at Missouri, making up a contest that was postponed Oct. 17 due to COVID-related issues within the Commodores program. Arkansas and Missouri were scheduled to play this week, but positive COVID tests and contact tracing Monday resulted in the Razorbacks being unable to compete.
The league said through a release that this rescheduling of games "allows for the continued opportunity for all 14 teams to play all of its 10 games in the 2020 season." Tennessee already had its Nov. 14 home contest against Texas A&M pushed back to Dec. 12, so the Volunteers are now looking at hosting No. 6 Florida on Dec. 5, hosting the No. 5 Aggies on Dec. 12, and possibly playing at Vanderbilt on Dec. 19.
"As we continue to adapt to the current realities, it is important to remain flexible as we move forward in the final weeks of the season," league commissioner Greg Sankey said. "Contact tracing continues to be the biggest contributing factor to game interruptions. We will continue to manage the remaining weeks of the football schedule to allow for as many games to be played as possible."
The SEC has not confirmed that Tennessee-Vanderbilt will take place on Dec. 19, with the league simply mentioning that rescheduling the game along with Arkansas-Missouri would be evaluated.
Vandy has yet to win this season, while Tennessee has lost five consecutive games by double digits for the first time in program history.
Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said Monday afternoon on his weekly Zoom call that Saturday night's 30-17 decision at Auburn was Tennessee's strongest outing of the season. The Vols amassed 464 total yards but yielded Smoke Monday's 100-yard interception return at the expense of Jarrett Guarantano and had two missed Brent Cimaglia field-goal attempts.
Tennessee's skid followed a 2-0 start in which the Vols topped South Carolina 31-27 and whipped Missouri 35-12.
"We played much better in this game than we did against Missouri," Pruitt said. "If you look at us over the course of the season, we have a thing called the 'War Daddy Board' to try and figure out if these guys played the right way. To make that board every week, you've got to play the right way and without many mental errors — just playing with toughness and effort and competing the right way.
"We've had more and more guys on that board, and the one thing that has really kept us from being where we want to be is we've made some critical mistakes in games."
Tennessee and Vanderbilt have played 113 times, with the Vols holding a 76-32-5 series advantage. The teams actually played twice in 1892, with Vandy claiming both meetings in Nashville.
Should the in-state rivalry not be rescheduled and the Vols lose to the top-10 tandem of Florida and Texas A&M, they would endure their fewest wins in a season since going 0-3 in 1917. Tennessee actually suspended varsity football in 1917 due to World War I, but an unofficial team consisting Army recruits and students went 0-3 with losses to the likes of the 11th U.S. Infantry and Camp Gordon.
While a multitude of Tennessee fans are wanting Pruitt to replace Guarantano with Harrison Bailey, they may have to settle for what has been a slow but sure progression for the true freshman.
Bailey has played in three of the past four games, completing 14 of 23 passes (60.9%) for 175 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He directed his first touchdown drive at Auburn, which pulled Tennessee within 27-17 with 4:07 remaining.
"If you go back to the Kentucky game, Harrison got in a drive there for maybe eight to 10 plays," Pruitt said. "Against Arkansas, it was similar or maybe a little more — like 10 to 14. On Saturday, he got in two drives, and the one thing I've really liked about him is his presence. He has seemed to be pretty calm, and he's stepped in there and made two or three really good throws.
"He didn't get many live reps in fall camp, so these are kind of like his opportunities, and I think he has taken advantage of them."
Odds and ends
Vanderbilt has defeated Tennessee five of the last eight years. ESPN cameras caught Vols freshman linebacker Tyler Baron falling to the ground without being hit during Saturday's third quarter. "We don't coach that," Pruitt said. "I've been at places where that was the norm, but we haven't coached that here, and it's never been addressed with any of our players." Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Greg Emerson is "day-to-day" after suffering a leg injury at Auburn.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.