Knoxville, TN – Knoxville, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - Coming off their most impressive win of the season, the fourth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide bring some momentum into Saturday's SEC clash with the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium.
Until last weekend, Nick Saban's squad looked simply ordinary in the month of October. The Crimson Tide opened the month with a 23-17 loss to Ole Miss and followed that with a bland 14-13 victory over Arkansas. However, two weeks of mediocre play was soon forgotten with last week's 59-0 shredding of Texas A&M. With the win, Alabama bolstered its chances of earning a spot in the playoff this year, moving to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC.
Saban recognizes this game is a big one in terms of rivalry.
"This game that we have every year with Tennessee is one of the great rivalry games in college football," said Saban. "It certainly has a lot of tradition and is something that has been very special and means a lot to a lot of our fans. It certainly means a lot to me and our staff and our team."
That staff this season includes new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who bailed on the Tennessee head coaching job after just one season to succeed Pete Carroll at USC back in 2010.
Butch Jones' second season in Knoxville hasn't been very enjoyable. The Volunteers fell under .500 with last week's 34-3 rout at the hands of Ole Miss and remained winless in the conference at a dismal 0-3.
This marks the 97th all-time meeting between these two programs, with Alabama holding a 50-38-7 series advantage. The Crimson Tide have won seven straight in the series and three straight games in Knoxville.
Alabama erased any bad taste left in the team's mouth from the prior two games, as its 59-0 whipping of the Aggies represented the largest margin of victory for the school since 1979 (66-3 against Vanderbilt).
It is a balanced offensive attack that makes Alabama so dangerous. The team is churning out 514.6 yards per game (16th nationally), with great balance between the run (223.7 ypg) and the pass (290.9 ypg).
Quarterback Blake Sims has been electric this season, completing 66.5 percent of his passes, for 1,748 yards and 13 TDs against just three INTs. He has added a rushing element to the Alabama QB position with four additional scores on the ground.
The passing game has thrived thanks in large part All-America candidate Amari Cooper, who has proved to be the best wideout in the nation. The 6-foot-1 junior already has 62 receptions, for 908 yards and seven TDs.
Tailbacks T.J. Yeldon (566 yards, four TDs) and Derrick Henry (452 yards, three TDs) present a solid one-two punch out of the Alabama backfield.
The Alabama defense was really on top of its game in shutting out the usually explosive Aggies last week. The numbers on the year have been impressive all the same, with the team ranking third nationally in scoring defense (13.1 ppg) and total defense (262.1 ypg) and second in rush defense (63.4 ypg).
Junior safety Landon Collins is the next Alabama defensive back with a high NFL Draft grade. The 6-0, 222-pounder leads the team in tackles (50), with two interceptions. Linebackers Reggie Ragland (47 tackles, 5.0 TFL. 1 sack, 1 INT), Trey DePriest (35 tackles) and Xzavier Dickson (21 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks) has been disruptive in the front seven.
The Volunteers could be in over their heads against a stout Alabama defense. Tennessee ranks a dismal 113th nationally in total offense (325.1 ypg). The team has struggled running the football on the regular basis, ranking 117th nationally at a mere 94.0 ypg.
Quarterback Justin Worley has been inconsistent under center for the Vols. He has completed a healthy 62.3 percent of his passes, for 1,579 yards, but has just 12 TDs against eight interceptions.
The passing game lacks a game-changer on the outside, with wideouts Marquez North (26 rec, 264 yds, 4 TDs) and Alton Howard (26 rec, 243 yds, 1 TD) representing the top options down the field.
Freshman tailback Jalen Hurd is the team's top ground-gainer, amassing 414 yards and two TDs, on 4.3 yards per carry.
The Volunteers are yielding 21.3 ppg and have shown to be extremely stingy against the pass, giving up just 166.3 yards per game (sixth nationally). The Vols have collected 58 TFL and 17 sacks on the year.
Senior linebacker A.J. Johnson is playing at an All-America level and leads the Vols in tackles (78), with 8.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks, one INT and two forced fumbles. Freshman defensive end Derek Barnett (38 tackles) has been disruptive upfield, with 9.5 TFL and 3.0 sacks. Sophomore cornerback Cameron Sutton (23 tackles) leads the team with three interceptions.
Coach Jones cautions about his defense trying to do too much at times.
"We always talk about pressing all the time. When you press, you have the anxiety, that sometimes will be your emergency break. So again, just do your job, focus on your job. I think sometimes they want success so much that they try to do their job and someone else's job and that is when you get hurt. Just focus on the bull's-eye. Focus on your eye disciple. But overall, just do you job, execute your assignment and play great team defense."