Is Alabama fortunate to avoid a Tennessee rematch?
As Alabama prepares for the SEC Championship game against the East Division champion, No. 18 Florida, it’s not outlandish to wonder if the Crimson Tide is getting off a little bit easy. Florida has certainly earned its spot in the title game opposite Alabama, but the Gators have struggled down the stretch and the Tide might be avoiding the SEC East team most capable of pulling off an upset.
Tennessee finished tied for second in the East with a 5-3 conference record and while the Volunteer faithful were disappointed in their young team’s 8-4 finish, Tennessee lost to a pair of teams likely to be in the College Football Playoff final four by a total of 12 points. Those include a double-overtime loss to Big 12 champion Oklahoma and a 19-14 setback against Alabama.
On top of that, the Vols lost to Arkansas and Florida by a total of five points and have finished the regular season on a fairly impressive five-game winning streak.
Would Tennessee be a lock to knock off the Tide in Atlanta? Hardly. The Vols might not even be a trendy upset pick if that were this weekend’s matchup. But you also have to think Alabama fans are a bit more confident heading into a game against a Florida team that’s struggled mightily to score against better-than-average defenses than if their team was playing a hot Tennessee squad.
The loss to Alabama was perhaps the ultimate heartbreaker in a season full of them for the Volunteers. Tennessee led 14-13 with less than three minutes left in the game at the Tide’s Bryant-Denny Stadium. Tennessee held Alabama to a single touchdown in the first 57 minutes of the game before Derrick Henry rushed 14 yards into the end zone with 2:24 left in the game to give the Tide the win.
If any team in the SEC East has a real shot of knocking off the Tide it might have been the Vols. Tennessee, which has held teams to less than 30 points in nine of its past 10 games, has the defense to hang around in a low-scoring struggle. The Volunteers play several freshmen on that side of the ball who have been getting better each with, including linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr.
In that game at Alabama, Tennessee was able to consistently get pressure on Tide quarterback Jake Coker, sacking him five times and forcing an interception.
And in one of those games where one big play can make the difference, Tennessee has some playmakers capable of doing it. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs is a dual threat with more than 2,000 passing yards and 600 rushing yards, while running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara are each capable of breaking off a long run.
But it won’t be Tennessee meeting Alabama in Atlanta this Saturday. Not that you’ll hear the Tide complaining.