September 18, 2004. That's the last time the scoreboard read in Tennessee's favor in the Third Saturday in October. Butch Jones was still an offensive coordinator at Central Michigan, yet to begin his head coaching stints at CMU, Cincinnati and Tennessee. After several disappointing seasons with Derek Dooley at the helm, Jones appears to have righted the ship with Tennessee starting the season with a 4-3 record. After falling short against Georgia in overtime, the Volunteers came back with an impressive 23-21 victory over South Carolina. Things don't get any easier for Tennessee in what has been a brutal three-game stretch. This week they get the nation's top team in Alabama. The Crimson Tide is not only undefeated but has rolled teams this year with an average margin of victory of 31 points. Tune in to CBS at 3:30 pm ET to see if Tennessee can turn the tide on Nick Saban and Alabama.
Three Things to Watch
Can Alabama's defense be scored on?
The Crimson Tide defense has been stellar this year. They allow an NCAA-best 9.7 points per game. Outside of the outlier of 42 points Johnny Manziel and A&M put up on Alabama, the Tide have only allowed 26 points in six games. Tennessee has struggled at times this season with offensive consistency and it's hard to imagine a scenario where they put up big numbers. The Crimson Tide's defense has struggled at times with a dual-threat quarterback. That is not Justin Worley's strong suit.
Yards after contact
The Vols defense missed 15 tackles last week, as their issues with tackling in space have continued. The Tide has a bevy of talented receivers that are excellent at running after the catch. DeAndrew White, Amari Cooper and Kenny Bell have been especially adept at turning into great runners after the reception. Tennessee really can't afford to give the Tide extra yardage and easier first downs. Let's not forget the surprisingly powerful T.J. Yeldon, who does a great job of keeping his feet churning through traffic.
Both teams are third in the SEC with +4 turnover differential, which has been a key reason for each program's success this year. However, Tennessee got five of those turnovers in a six-play span against Western Kentucky. Justin Worley is much more likely to make mistakes as he has thrown six interceptions. On the other hand, AJ McCarron has been nearly flawless this season. He has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions. It will surely be hard for Tennessee to create any turnovers, while just one giveaway by the Vols could be enough to bury them.
Key Player: Pig Howard, WR, Tennessee
With safety Vinnie Sunseri out for the season, Howard should be able to roam the middle of the field with freedom. Sunseri was a smart, veteran presence who was always in the right spot. Alabama is much more susceptible to a blown coverage or two without the defensive captain. Howard amassed 116 yards on 10 touches against Georgia and caught a career-high eight passes for 33 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina. With Deion Belue locked up on Marquez North, Howard seems poised for a big game.
Tennessee has make huge strides this year; however, this is still Alabama. The line on this game is 28.5 and that doesn't seem far off from what reality will bring. Tennessee is improved, but Alabama is the nation's best team. This should be another throttling as the Crimson Tide will surely grab their 10th straight victory in the rivalry. Nick Saban's teams just don't lose to inferior talent.
Prediction: Alabama 42, Tennessee 10