Is Tennessee's 'best shot' enough to topple Alabama?
In a rivalry such as this, eight years is a long time to wait for a victory.
But much like they have in the Florida rivalry game, Tennessee fans have been waiting patiently for things to turn around in the Vols’ series with Alabama.
On the heels of a big win against Georgia, the Vols enjoyed a Week 7 bye, allowing them to rest up and game plan for the Crimson Tide.
With spirits high and players rested, there is no reason to believe that Alabama will get anything but Tennessee’s best effort on Saturday.
Will that best effort be enough for the Vols to claim victory in hostile territory and put an end to one of their most painful losing streaks?
Three reasons why the Vols’ best shot could be enough to take down Alabama on Saturday:
- It’s all about the state of mind. If the Vols had fallen short in their comeback attempt against Georgia in Week 6, there is no way anyone would consider this team to be in a state of mind capable of knocking off one of the nation’s best. But college kids are funny creatures, and freeing themselves of the stress caused by close losses to Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas could be just what the doctor ordered for a productive second half of the season. An underdog ready to play loose and free is dangerous.
- Joshua Dobbs can do things Jake Coker cannot. The junior quarterback has been a tough guy to figure out this season, seemingly bouncing back and forth between scapegoat and hero from week to week. But the version of Dobbs that we last saw on the field against Georgia, which threw for more than 300 yards and ran for more than 100, is a weapon that could put any team in position to win on any given day.
- The Vols can win the turnover battle. The quickest way for a road underdog to assert themselves as a contender for an upset is by making sure the turnover margin is in their favor. While Tennessee and Alabama both sport a plus-3 margin – tied for third in the SEC – the Vols have turned the ball over eight fewer times. At less that one turnover per game this season, Tennessee has exhibited extremely good ball control on offense. It is up to the Vols defense to force Coker and company into mistakes.
Three reasons the Vols’ best shot won’t be enough for a victory in Tuscaloosa:
- Depth. The Vols have been crushed by injuries during the first half of the season, and that takes its toll on a young team’s ability to compete from a depth perspective. The holes created by the absence of key contributors such as LB Curt Maggitt tend to show themselves when playing against a team like Alabama, which is as deep as any team in the country.
- The Vols haven’t been able to stretch the field. Look at Alabama’s three losses during the past two seasons and what is a common theme? An opponent that was able to throw the ball down the field without fear of turning it over. Whether you place the blame on play calling, Dobbs’ accuracy or the receiving corps’ inability to create separation, one thing is clear: Tennessee has struggled with its vertical passing game all season.
- No one runs on Alabama’s front seven. At least no one has been able to do so successfully. The Crimson Tide leads the SEC with 70.9 yards rushing allowed per game, and ranks third in the FBS behind only Boston College and Michigan. The Vols have enjoyed much of their offensive success when Dobbs and RB Jalen Hurd are running the ball effectively, so something has to give.