9 reasons the Vols will end their 9-year losing streak against Bama
With Tennessee’s losing streak against Alabama at nine games, we’re paying tribute to the biggest edition of the Third Saturday in October game in many years with a list of nine reasons the Vols will end the streak Saturday.
1. Comeback mojo: Alabama beats most teams (see Arkansas for a recent example) in a very obvious way. The Tide make a couple of plays, force some mistakes, and then bury opponents (see seven defensive touchdowns by Alabama this year). Tennessee is the ultimate unburiable opponent. Down 21-0? No worries. Trailing 28-7? Went to overtime vs. A&M from that score last week? Behind with 10 seconds left? They got this. Unlike every other team that Bama plays, when (and not if) UT has some adversity in this game, the reaction will be “So what? Back to work.”
2. Passing concern: There’s no question that the Alabama secondary is tough and talented. There’s also no question that the Tide give up plenty of yardage. Sure, some of it is stat-sheet stuffing by outmanned opponents. But consider Ole Miss and Chad Kelly, who passed for 421 yards. Austin Allen totaled 400 last week. If you’re looking for relative weaknesses, Bama’s passing stats aren’t very good, and that’s despite playing Kentucky and Kent State.
3. Hurts can’t always hurt you: Freshman Bama QB Jalen Hurts is the real deal. That said, his passing game has been just so-so against top competition. While Ole Miss threw for 421 yards, Bama passed for … 158. Southern Cal?
Hurts only played about half of that game, so he had 118 yards passing. Hurts was sharp again Arkansas, but still threw for 140 fewer yards than Austin Allen. Tennessee’s struggles and injuries mainly concern pass defense, and Hurts hasn’t yet dominated top competition in the air.
4. Tennessee’s strong ground game unique to Bama: Alabama has a great run defense. But they also haven’t seen much competition. Rawleigh Williams III of Arkansas is probably the best back the Tide have seen, and Williams had 3.8 yards per carry and a touchdown—he just couldn’t help that his defense got toasted. Even if Jalen Hurd couldn’t go, Alvin Kamara and Joshua Dobbs are a potent 1-2 punch which Bama hasn’t yet seen. Potentially adding Hurd in there just strengthens the point.
5. This isn’t the hobbled UT program of the past 9 years: The last time Tennessee wasn’t a two touchdown plus underdog in this game (before this year) was 2008. Phil Fulmer was UT’s coach, and they were defending SEC East champions. In the past nine years, this game went from a battle of two proud programs to a battle of Goliath against, well, David’s weaker brother maybe.
The point spread getting closer this year (12.5 at last check) is an indicator of a restoration to the natural order of this rivalry. Which means game on.
6. Tennessee’s special teams have an upper hand: Aaron Medley, Trevor Daniel, and the return duo of Alvin Kamara and Evan Berry (below) are better than Bama’s specialists. Against most foes, Bama’s superior depth translates to a big special teams edge that helps steal some yards, and occasionally points. Not this Saturday.
7. UT fits the profile to beat Bama: So who beats Alabama? Granted, in the past five seasons, it’s happened just seven times. But most of the seven teams fit the same general profile — dual threat QBs who lead amped up offenses. Johnny Football took down Bama as a 13.5-point underdog in 2012, Nick Marshall beat them via the Kick Six as a 10.5-point dog in 2013. Joshua Dobbs, with the possible exception of Trevor Knight, is perhaps the best fit to join that group in 2016.
8. It might benefit Alabama to lose this game: Now hear me out, I know this is crazy. But Alabama, with the exception of the 2009 perfect season, always loses a regular season game. Nick Saban learned his lesson on this stuff with the 2013 season. Would you rather lose early or lose late?
Saban has had the look in multiple games of a coach who is extremely dissatisfied with his coordinators, with his players, with the general environment around his team. Nobody is suggesting he’s throwing this game. But I am saying if you gave him the choice of losing this game or, say, A&M next week, or at LSU in three weeks, he’d pick this game.
It gives them focus and motivation with some significant games left to re-prove Bama’s dominance, and it would give him a shot to crush Tennessee in a revenge game in the SEC championship.
Again, I am dead certain that Saban isn’t hoping or planning to lose this game — but he also knows it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, and a certain amount of that thought process carries over to his team.
9. Neyland Stadium: In the discussion of home field advantage, Neyland often gets overlooked. Sure, there are a handful of larger stadiums, and a handful of rowdier stadiums. But when Tennessee gives the Vol Nation reason to get excited, they turn Neyland into a cauldron of noise.
Tennessee’s crowd will be amped up for certain. Bama has played at Ole Miss and at Arkansas, but there’s nothing in either site that will compare to the UT atmosphere. The 12th man matters, and this weekend, he’s wearing orange and being very loud.