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Tennessee Volunteers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Preview and Prediction

Nick Saban

Nick Saban

Volunteers - Gators Prediction: Butch Jones

Any chance Tennessee pulls the miracle at Alabama this week?

Nah. Won’t happen. Can’t happen. Never.

But didn’t four top-10 teams lose to unranked teams last week? Four of them!

Still, you say the Vols can’t beat the Tide?

Okay, okay, you’re probably right. The chances are extremely minute. I mean this is a Big Orange... er, Little Orange team that has lost three straight SEC games and looked more and more punchless along the way. Meanwhile the Tide has looked mightier and mightier as the weeks have gone on, including beating Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Arkansas by giving up just 31 points in total.

The Volunteers should be motivated out of their minds for this one. The worst-kept secret in the world is that head coach Butch Jones is fighting for his job here. Can you imagine what pulling a stunner over No. 1-ranked Alabama would do for his job security? The way the upsets have been flying around college football the last few weeks, could you blame anybody for drinking the orange Kool-Aid here?

Tennessee at Alabama

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Alabama -35

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Three Things to Watch

1. The new UT QB

Oh poor Jarrett Guarantano. We fear for his safety. That angry pack of red elephants he’s going to face this week is much more fierce than the Georgia and South Carolina defenders that held them to nine points in Tennessee’s last two games. The freshman operative will be making the second start of his career and his first start in a road game. (What a place to do it, huh? Aye-yaye-yaye.). Guarantano was rated the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the country last season, so at least his versatility will be a help against all that blitzing and stunting the Crimson Tide will do. How he handles the defensive pressure and the big-time atmosphere will be key indicators. Get your scrambling shoes on son.

2. Defense can keep you in any game

If the Volunteers have any chance at all their defense will have to play somewhat close to the way they did last week in the 15-9 loss to South Carolina, especially in the first half where the first seven drives of the game netted the Gamecocks just 125 total yards. The Vol interior line, under position coach Brady Hoke (yes, THAT Brady Hoke), did a solid job of stacking up the Gamecocks most of the game and seemed to grow as a unit. But of course, this will be a totally different animal, facing Jalen Hurts and that power-running game. FYI, despite the improvement the Volunteer rush defense is still just 122nd in the nation giving up 242 yards per game on the ground.

Alabama Crimson Tide QB Jalen Hurts

3. Gotta be sound in the kicking game

Another facet that can sway a huge underdog into making it a game vs. Goliath U. is when the special teams comes up big. Marquez Calloway is second in the SEC in punt returns at 13.5 yards per return (he was first before LSU’s DJ Chark went 73 yards vs. Auburn) and if he can bust one early, that would be a huge momentum boost. Also, the dynamic Evan Berry has been back at practice this week. In game one this year Berry returned two kicks for 86 yards before leaving due to injuries. Trevor Daniel is third in the nation with a stout 48.2 yard punting average. As long as the coverage unit backs him up, the Vols could use his leg to flip the field position game and force Alabama to play in the shadow of its own goal posts. Also, freshman kicker Brent Cimaglia cooly hit all three of his field goals last week, showing he’s more comfortable.

Final Analysis

I hear what you’re saying, there are an awful lot of “ifs” in the three things above. It’s true, it’s not like the Volunteers are sitting on Santa’s lap and asking all these pie-in-the-sky things to happen and they’ll magically show up under their tree. Alabama is like the Grinch, it’ll ruin any teams’ hopes for good tidings and good cheer.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Alabama

To be honest, the Vols played a whale of a first half against South Carolina last week, dominating the time of possession, moving the ball up and down the field and showing promise with a 9-3 lead. Problem was they never could put the pigskin in the end zone. In fact, Tennessee hasn’t scored a touchdown in its last 10 quarters of play and the prospects don’t look so viable here against the Tide either. The Vols are 112th in the nation in red zone scoring, tallying just 10 TDs in 19 trips inside the opposing 20. Meanwhile Alabama unsurprisingly leads the SEC in red zone defense

Nick Saban has never lost to the Vols since taking over in Tuscaloosa, winning all 10 matchups by a combined score of 351-119. This will be more of the same.

Prediction: Alabama 56, Tennessee 9

— 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.