Tuscaloosa, AL – The second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide have been truly dominant so far this season, and they will attempt to remain undefeated when they entertain SEC rival Tennessee on Saturday night.
The Volunteers are 3-3 overall this season after suffering losses in three of the last four outings, including two in a row. Last weekend, UT was simply no match for top-ranked LSU, falling to the mighty Tigers by a 38-7 final in Knoxville. Now, Derek Dooley's team must take on an opponent just as talented on the road, a scary proposition for Vols' fans.
"In every game there are things that disappoint you," said Dooley "In every game there are things you feel good about. That game was not complex. I don't know what else to do. I could get up there and scream at them but that's not going to help."
Alabama destroyed Ole Miss last weekend by a 52-7 final on the road and has won all seven of its games by 16 or more points, including five wins by at least 34 points. The 52-point effort against Ole Miss marked the highest output for the Tide against an SEC opponent since 1990. Now in his fifth season as head coach at Alabama, Nick Saban has led his club to a 16-1 record in the month of October since 2007.
"Consistency in performance is the key to success," said Saban in anticipation of this weekend's affair. "We have to use every opportunity we can to improve so that we can do that."
This game marks the 93rd all-time meeting between the Tide and the Vols, and Alabama has won the last four matchups to increase its advantage in the all- time series to 47-38-7.
The Vols' offense has been hit hard by injury this season. First, standout receiver Justin Hunter was lost for the remainder of the campaign with a knee injury. Then, two weeks ago, QB Tyler Bray injured his thumb, making his return this season extremely questionable.
Matt Simms got the start in place of Bray last weekend and struggled mightily against LSU, completing just 6-of-20 passes for 128 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions. Da'Rick Rogers, a talented wideout, was held to two catches, while reliable tailback Tauren Poole rushed for 70 yards and a score.
"Matt did some good things," said Dooley of Simms. "There are some throws he is going to want back. We will see the film. He helped us in the running game too. Matt deserves some credit for that."
The Tennessee defense yielded five touchdowns to LSU to go along with 383 total yards, and the Vols failed to notch a single takeaway. They permitted the Tigers to connect on 70 percent of their passes and average 4.8 yards per rushing attempt.
Tennessee is scoring 28.3 ppg this season, but maintaining that output without Bray will be extremely difficult. Poole isn't much of a game-breaker, as he is only averaging 4.1 yards per rush. Sims has completed just 39.3 percent of his passes this season, and Rogers (35 rec, 576 yds, six TDs) may struggle to remain a threat with Simms under center.
Opponents are posting 23.3 ppg against Tennessee, which has surrendered eight rushing scores and eight passing TDs thus far. The Vols have only come up with five takeaways and have notched nine sacks to date. Jacques Smith paces Tennessee with 5.5 TFL, and it is fair to say that the defense lacks a true playmaker.
The Tennessee defense will certainly have its hands full with Alabama, as the Tide put up 39.7 ppg and 460.6 total ypg. They are rushing for 241.6 ypg at a clip of 6.1 ypc, and have 24 rushing TDs already. Heisman candidate Trent Richardson is the unit's best player, as the tailback has already run for 912 yards and 15 scores.
"Trent is a great player," said Saban. "He's one of the best players in the country. Whatever awards they give at the end of the season, he certainly should be considered for any and all of them that he qualifies for, but for right now, we're thinking about what we need to do right now."
Eddie Lacy has been tremendous running the ball as well, as he averages 8.2 yards per carry. As for QB A.J. McCarron, he continues to make smart decisions and manage the game effectively. He has completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 1,380 yards and nine touchdowns with only two interceptions.
Richardson ran for a career-high 183 yards and four touchdowns in 45-point romp over Ole Miss last week, and Jalston Fowler added 125 rushing yards and two TDs on a mere nine attempts. McCarron completed 19-of-24 passes for 224 yards and one TD with no INTs in the blowout.
It can certainly be argued with great validity that Alabama is the best defensive team in all of college football. The Tide are holding foes to a paltry 7.0 ppg and 184.1 total ypg, and they have generated 12 takeaways to go along with 15 sacks. Against the run, Alabama permits a low 38.1 ypg at a clip of 1.5 ypc. Courtney Upshaw is one of many great defenders worthy of mention, as he tops the Tide with 10.5 TFL.