Will Alabama slip up against Tennessee this week? Very doubtful
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Alabama could stumble and lose to Tennessee this weekend. This game seems like a walk in the park for the Crimson Tide.
The Vols are coming off of a heartbreaking loss to their hated former coach Lane Kiffin after Ole Miss managed to hold onto a 31-26 victory. UT also has had to deal with criticism from the SEC about objects being thrown onto the field in the final stages of the Ole Miss game. While that is embarrassing for the fan base and probably a slight dent in the athletic budget, it shouldn’t affect Tennessee’s actual preparation this week, but no one knows for sure. The Vols seemed to empty the emotional bucket against Ole Miss. Alabama is probably the worst team that could pop up on the schedule.
We’ve certainly seen Alabama walk all over the Vols in recent years. Nick Saban is 14-0 against the Volunteers, whose last victory over the Tide came in 2006, the year before Saban arrived.
Those wins have often happened when Tennessee’s season is on the brink or already in the dumpster. This season, Tennessee still has plenty to play for and Alabama is the type of rivalry game that UT should be motivated to win — at least it used to be. However, the Vols were sky-high for Ole Miss. That begs the question if UT can have the same type of energy for 2 straight weeks.
Alabama doesn’t have that bounce-back problem. Since Saban turned Bama into one of the most dominant programs in college football history, the Crimson Tide have almost always come back from a loss and played well in the next game and usually for the remainder of the season. A loss for most programs in a hyped game often leads to a flat performance the next week. Alabama is the exception. They bounced back from the Texas A&M loss with an emphatic victory over Mississippi State.
Tennessee’s offensive approach under Josh Heupel also seems like it may be a major issue this week. When Heupel has more defensive depth, his high-tempo offense could be a great fit. For now, it might be a disaster against Alabama. UT and Ole Miss both looked fatigued last week as both offenses pushed the tempo. If the Vols do the same this week — and they likely will — then things could get extremely challenging for UT’s defense against Alabama, which will also run its offense at a fast pace.
The Vols seemed to contain Ole Miss’ passing game on Saturday, but Tennessee hasn’t been very good against the pass this season as a whole. The Vols rank 10th in the SEC in passing yards allowed. The Crimson Tide’s offense ranks 2nd in the SEC, just behind Mississippi State, in passing yards per game. That makes for a big mismatch, and a big opportunity for Bryce Young to add to his Heisman résumé.
Had we projected this game a couple of weeks ago, one could have argued that the Vols could keep up with most teams in a high-scoring affair. Now, with offensive line injuries and an injury to UT quarterback Hendon Hooker, it seems difficult to imagine that the Vols can keep up. Alabama is among many teams that are tied for 5th in the SEC with 19 sacks this season. With a patchwork offensive line, Bama should be able to make things tough on whoever plays quarterback for the Vols.
Tennessee’s pass protection has been incredibly poor this season. The Vols are worst in the SEC with 25 sacks allowed. For some perspective, the next closest team in the conference has only given up 17 sacks. That’s a bad omen for whoever lines up under center Saturday and good news for the Tide.
For Alabama fans that might be fretting (and they shouldn’t be), Tennessee’s defensive front did well against Ole Miss when it came to pressuring quarterback Matt Corral, who was more effective running the football than passing. Alabama has shown that it can struggle to protect the passer. The Crimson Tide is 10th in the SEC in sacks allowed with 16 yielded this season. There were times in the Texas A&M game and some isolated other instances in which Young has looked a bit flustered. The Vols are also tied for 5th in the SEC with 19 sacks in the season. This may be the one advantage the Vols have against Bama. The Vols better take advantage of it.
As for the matchup in the running game, Alabama has a slight disadvantage statistically speaking. Bama is 9th in the SEC with 166 yards per game. The Vols are 6th in rushing defense with 136 yards allowed per game. Still, Bama should be able to run the ball, especially if they commit to it like they did last week against Mississippi State.
It seems like sorting hairs to find a way that Bama could slip up against Tennessee. There’s a reason the Vols are almost a 30-point underdog. If Bama loses, it wouldn’t be just bad; it would be historic. Considering the opponent and the fact that the game is in Tuscaloosa, it might be the worst loss of Saban’s career.
In all likelihood, Alabama will dominate the Vols and continue their 2021 tour that is loosely scheduled to conclude in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Alabama is much better than any team they’ll play in the regular season, including Tennessee, and they seem refocused. That’s no surprise. It’s just what Saban does.