Volunteers hope to main momentum and end 12-game losing streak to Crimson Tide
When it comes to Saturday's Tennessee vs. Alabama matchup, what do the numbers 12, 37.8, 12.3 and three have in common? Twelve is the number of games in a row the Crimson Tide have won in the series vs. the Volunteers. And 37.8 and 12.3 are the average scores in those dozen games.
And what does the "three" stand for? That's the most important number of all; it relates to the third Saturday in October. That's the traditional date these two programs set for their annual SEC throwdown. The Tide leads the series 56-38-7 but their 12-game dominance has turned this matchup into a one-sided affair.
Tennessee at Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -35
When Tennessee Has the Ball
Score early. Nothing will help the Volunteers more than having quarterback Brian Maurer lead them to an opening drive touchdown. (Head coach Jeremy Pruitt indicated earlier this week of Maurer that "he'll be fine" after suffering a concussion in last week's win over Mississippi State.) The Crimson Tide hadn’t allowed an opening drive TD in the last 17 games prior to last week at Texas A&M, where the Aggies held the ball for the first 8:12 of the game and went up 7-0. Maurer posted 14 points and 239 yards in the first half vs. Georgia two weeks ago. Do something similar to that here and give your boys a chance in this one.
Attack the middle. We all know that the Crimson Tide defense has four freshman starters on it, all four of which are in the middle with linemen Justin Eboigbe and D.J. Dale, along with inside linebackers Shane Lee and Christian Harris. UT ran the ball for 190 yards against Mississippi State and will look to get Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan established early, as they combined for 35 carries last week. Also, getting some quick-hit passes in the hook zone to the top three receivers in Jauan Jennings (29 catches, 412 yards), Marquez Callaway (13, 259) and TE Dominick Wood-Anderson (8, 148) will be a huge boon to the offense.
Simple, stop throwing picks in the end zone. Against Mississippi State, Maurer went all freshman-like, throwing a pair of first-half interceptions in the end zone to kill scoring chances. If he or Jarrett Guarantano do that, it's curtains for UT. While we’re on the subject, the Vols are ranked 101st in the country in red zone efficiency, having scored just nine touchdowns in 20 trips inside the opposing 20. Egad.
When Alabama Has the Ball
Feed the beast. Najee Harris needs more carries. Plain and simple. Coming into the Texas A&M game he had 54 carries in five games, barely an average of 10 per game. But against the Aggies, he ran with even more of a purpose, gaining 114 yards on 20 carries. He was a wrecking machine. Tennessee held Mississippi State, a very competent running team, to just 121 yards and a paltry 3.3 yards per carry. So this will be a wee-bit of a challenge here against the Big Orange. But I'm thinking the Bama O-line is up to the task.
Stay disciplined. I'm having to dig deep here but one of the areas where Tennessee has the advantage over the Tide is the Vols lead the SEC in fewest penalties, committing just 30 so far. Meanwhile the Crimson Tide is 105th nationally with 45 accepted penalties in six games. Penalties and turnovers are just about the only chance Tennessee has of making this a four-quarter game, no matter how much their defense has improved.
Tackle. Tackle. Tackle. I'm looking at you Vol defenders. Seriously. You guys need to get a hold of those Alabama receivers and not let go. Get this stat; the Tide wideouts average 10-plus yards after the catch. That is 10 extra yards on every completion. That’s how they turn five-yard outs into 60-yard touchdowns. If the Volunteers can avoid this demoralizing statistic, they'll have a chance at better success. By the way, the Big Orange held SEC-leading rusher Kylin Hill to 13 yards last week and the pass rush did a great job of pressuring the quarterback. We'll see if that continues on Saturday.
Last year, during the halftime on-field interview, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt was asked what the Volunteers needed to do to slow down Alabama and he responded with, "Well, that will take a few recruiting cycles."
The Big Orange are improving under Pruitt, no doubt. And they certainly showed some moxie against Mississippi State last week. But there still haven't been enough recruiting cycles to make a game against the Crimson Tide competitive.
Prediction: Alabama 45, Tennessee 17
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.