Tennessee (3-3) vs. Alabama (6-1) 3:30 pm
Since 2010, Alabama is 5-0 against the Volunteers and have won by an average of 28.4 points per game. Last season, Alabama jumped out to a 27-0 lead and went on for the 34-20 victory in Knoxville. Tennessee is coming off of a bye week for the this game.
The Volunteers must be able to start fast on the road and utilize quarterback Josh Dobbs’ ability on the perimeter of the Crimson Tide defense. Last season, Tennessee fell behind early 27-0 before inserting Dobbs into the game. In the second half, Dobbs athleticism created problems for the Alabama defense, as Tennessee was able to rush for 181 yards in that game and move the football consistently down the field. The Volunteers are averaging 37.2 points per game and are rushing for 222 yards on the ground. Dobbs is a dual threat quarterback that has rushed for 368 yards and has 5 rushing touchdowns this year. Tennessee is averaging 212 yards through the air, with Dobbs completing 58 % of his passes for 1,101 yards with 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Running back Jalen Hurd is a tough inside running back that leads the team with 572 yards averaging 4.5 yards per carry with 7 touchdowns. In order to get the road victory in Tuscaloosa, Tennessee will need to utilize play action on first and second down to keep the Tide’s defense from keying on the running game. This can allow wide receivers Josh Malone (team leading 17 receptions 169 yards 1 TD) and tight end Ethan Wolf (15 receptions 213 yards 2 TD’s) to find holes over the middle of the Alabama secondary. If the Tennessee offense can get into an early rhythm, this can allow head coach Butch Jones to get more aggressive with the offensive game plan.
Defensively, Tennessee is allowing 25.7 points per game and is giving up 170 rushing yards per game. The Volunteers will be challenged by a physical “blue collar” offensive line and the unit must find ways to clog running lanes before Alabama running back Derrick Henry gets to the second level of the defense. Look for Tennessee to call run blitzes with the Volunteers linebackers to force pressure on the Crimson Tide offensive line. Tennessee is allowing 248 passing yards per game and in order to get the road upset, the defense must be able to force third down and long situations. Alabama likes to pound the football between the tackles which opens up the play action passing game for quarterback Jake Coker. Tennessee will have to take chances by blitzing early on and forcing Coker into throwing over the top of the Volunteers secondary. The Volunteers have not been able to generate a pass rush this season and must find ways to get pressure on Coker to disrupt the timing of the Alabama offense. Through 6 games -Tennessee has recorded 9 sacks. Linebacker Jaylen Reeves-Maybin is the leader of the defense (team leading 56 total tackles) and will need a great effort on Saturday if the team is to pull off the upset. Defensive back Brian Rudolph (34 total tackles) leads an experienced secondary that must create turnovers on the road to help out the Tennessee offense. On the year, the Volunteers are +3 in turnover margin.
The Crimson Tide is coming off an impressive 41-23 victory on the road over previously unbeaten Texas A&M. Offensively, the Tide moved the football on the ground last week with running back Derrick Henry ripping the Aggies for a 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. The offensive line got stronger as the game progressed and will look for another similar effort this coming weekend against an undersized Volunteers front seven. Alabama is averaging 35.6 points per game and is rushing for 198 yards on the ground this season. Quarterback Jake Coker is now the leader of the offense and has progressed each and every week in offensive coordinator’s Lane Kiffen’s offensive scheme. Coker is completing 61.9% of his passes for 1,376 yards with 11 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Alabama is averaging 231 passing yards per game with wide receiver Calvin Ridley emerging as the Tide’s big play threat. Ridley has 38 receptions for 437 yards with 3 touchdowns , but has come on over the last three games (21 receptions 312 yards with 2 touchdowns). Running back Derick Henry, however, is the key to the offense. Henry is a bruising runner that is averaging 5.9 yards per carry (901 yards) with 12 touchdowns and is the player that sets the tone for the Alabama offense. Alabama has great success when they are able to run the football between the tackles which forces defenses to put “eight in the box” to slow down the Tide’s physical rushing attack. This opens up the deep ball for Coker and puts pressure on opposing secondaries to cover Ridley down the field. Look for Alabama to use the same approach in this game. The Crimson Tide will look to wear down the Volunteers in the interior which will allow Kiffen to be more aggressive as the game goes on.
Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has this unit hitting on all cylinders after the Tide forced four interceptions last week returning three of them for scores in the 41-23 victory. Alabama is allowing 16.7 points per game and is +3 in turnover margin. Last year, the Tide was minus in turnover margin for the first time since prior to 2008. Alabama is very solid in run support allowing 70 yards per game to their opponents and will look to shut down Hurd early on in this game. In order to get the victory this Saturday, Alabama will want to make Dobbs beat them over the top with his arm. Dobbs has struggled with consistency this year and the Crimson Tide would have the advantage should Tennessee be forced into passing situations (Alabama 28% 3rd Down Def.). The Crimson Tide has 22 sacks through the first seven games and Alabama is allowing 201 passing yards per game. Look for linebacker Reggie Ragland to be around the football at all times in this game. Ragland leads the team with 59 total tackles and is very solid in pass coverage as well. Defensive lineman Johnathan Allen leads the team with 5 sacks and Alabama has been able to generate a pass rush with their front four which allows Smart to disguise coverages in the secondary without blitzing. If Alabama can force Dobbs into reading coverage and throwing over the Tide’s secondary, Alabama would have a significant defensive advantage in this game.
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Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor atwww.2FiveSports.com.He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson(www.sportsxradio.com).
Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2.
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