SEC Kickoff: Everything you need to know about Alabama vs. Tennessee
Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s annual rivalry between No. 4 Alabama and Tennessee in Knoxville.
Where: Knoxville, Tenn.
Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN 2
Current Line: Alabama (-17)
SATURDAY DOWN SOUTH PREVIEWS
- Despite streak, ‘Third Saturday in October’ still a big rivalry
- Q&A with Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland
- Alabama is SEC’s best playoff bet
- Alabama’s more stable secondary playing with more confidence
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Players to watch:
- QB Blake Sims
- RB T.J. Yeldon
- RB Derrick Henry
- WR Amari Cooper
- LT Cam Robinson
- LB Xzavier Dickson
- LB Reggie Ragland
- CB Tony Brown
- S Landon Collins
Keys for Alabama:
- Force mistakes by Worley. Alabama’s run defense shouldn’t have too much trouble stopping Tennessee’s run game. The key will be forcing Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley into some bad decisions. Once Alabama is able to rattle Worley, the Crimson Tide should create some turnovers and shut down the Volunteer offense.
- Put an emphasis on running the ball early. Alabama’s the more talented team coming into this game, but Neyland Stadium will be rocking and could certainly even up the playing field. The Crimson Tide should rely on TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry early and wear down the middle of Tennessee’s defense and then use the Blake Sims — Amari Cooper connection and beat the Vols deep.
- Develop offensive rhythm early. Alabama has struggled to bring its high-powered offense on the road this season and tonight will provide another tough test for Lane Kiffin’s unit. A quick start from the Crimson Tide’s offense will be a welcomed sign for a team primed to make a big playoff push in the latter half of the season.
Alabama’s glaring weakness to watch: Special teams. Fumbles on punt returns and special teams play overall hasn’t been pretty this season for Nick Saban’s team. Limiting mistakes on special teams is crucial for Alabama’s success tonight or more costly mistakes could easily keep an inferior Tennessee team in the game.
Most interesting part of this game: Lane Kiffin’s return to Tennessee. Regarded as one of, if not the most hated man in Tennessee sports, Alabama’s offensive coordinator will make his first return to Neyland Stadium since leaving the Vols to become head coach at Southern Cal. The reception I’m sure will be more than cordial from the raucous Tennessee fans and the pressure for Kiffin to call a good game will be as high as its ever been.
Team buzz: Alabama erased many doubts following a 59-0 drubbing of Texas A&M at home last week. Still, this is far from a perfect team and head coach Nick Saban has his work cut out for him in these remaining weeks. A convincing win tonight will further Alabama’s case to be one of college football’s biggest playoff contenders.
Players to watch:
- RB Jalen Hurd
- WR Marquez North
- WR Josh Malone
- TE Ethan Wolf
- DE Derek Barnett
- LB A.J. Johnson
- LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
- CB Cameron Sutton
- KR Evan Berry
Keys for Tennessee:
- Feed the freshman: Jalen Hurd leads the Vols with 414 yards and two touchdowns on 97 carries. However, the freshman tailback has seen less carries since “dinging” his shoulder against Florida in Week 6. Hurd has his work cut out for him facing the No. 2 rushing defense in the country.
- More targets for Ethan Wolf: Ethan Wolf became the first true freshman to open the season as the starting tight end in school history. He enters Saturday’s game with 140 yards and 16 receptions, but has recorded just one catch in each of the past three games. Wolf needs to play a vital role in Tennessee’s struggling offense by providing an option on quick, short passes.
- Provide protection in the trenches: Tennessee has the worst offensive line in the SEC. The Vols are tied for second-most sacks allowed in the FBS and should struggle against a stellar Alabama defense. Tennessee has talent at skill positions, but fail to have plays develop with a collapsing pocket.
Vols’ glaring weakness to watch: Offense line, see above.
Most interesting part of this game: Who will start at quarterback? Butch Jones has yet to give an official update on the status of starter Justin Worley. Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said both Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs could see playing time if the senior is unable to play.
Team buzz: Tennessee is an offensive line away from being a solid SEC East team. The Vols rank No. 19 overall in total defense, but fail to see any offensive progression with a terrible offensive line. Until this problem is fixed, Tennessee will be halted in its rebuilding process.