No. 1 Alabama vs. Tennessee
Saturday, 7pm ESPN
Line: Alabama -20 1/2
Throw the records out, it's Alabama vs. Tennessee. These schools plain don't like each other and come Saturday night in Neyland Stadium things are bound to be as intense as they've ever been.
On paper this game should be a no brainer victory for the Tide, right? 3-0 in the SEC vs. the Vols 0-3 start to conference play would tell you that.
But as college football fans and writers we should know better than to just look at records and common sense when it comes to rivalry games like this. Especially when you look into the Vols 0-3 start. They've lost to Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi State – all teams with undefeated records. They've also lost all games by 10 points or less.
So, can we really throw the records out as the Tide and Vols meet for the 95th time in series history? Let's explore.
For Alabama to Win: Run, run, and run some more. Alabama is averaging 217 yards a game on the ground and UT is giving up 178 yards a game to opponents this season. They need to have the two headed monster of Eddie Lacey and T.J. Yeldon continue to be successful. Lacey averages 6 yards per game and Yeldon 6.4 yards per game. Those two need to be the catalysts offensively because the Vols have a very good secondary capable of Turning just about anyone over.
I know a lot of people are talking about the crazy stats that 'Bama QB AJ McCarron is putting up (12TD's/0INT's), but he's been a lot less of a reason for winning, throwing the ball nearly half as much as they run the ball. Perhaps they throw conventional wisdom out the window, but looking at the numbers from Alabama's side of things you'd think running the ball would be top of your list of things to accomplish for victory on Saturday night.
For Tennessee to Win: They need to stop the 'Bama rushing game defensively and they need to find a way to keep Tyler Bray upright on offense. Stopping the attack of Lacey and Yeldon won't be easy, but the Vols o-line has done a hell of a job keeping Bray upright, allowing only 3 sacks all season so far.
Tyler Bray has put up some great numbers thanks to good protection and his ability to make plays himself as well. He's 131 of 217 this season (60.4%) for 1,730 yards and has 16TD's to 7INT's. He needs to be the accurate version of himself and can not turn the ball over at all if the Vols want to win.
They have the talent offensively to keep up with anything Alabama throws at them, but they desperately need their run defense to show up for a change. Giving up 178 yards on the ground just won't get it done against anyone, let alone one of the best rushing attacks in the SEC.
If they can stuff the run early expect the frenzied crowd of over 105,000 at Neyland to become a huge factor. The longer they stay in the game the more likely UT is to have a chance to win this game, but it's up to the defense to keep those fans into the game early on.
Key Player, Alabama: Eddie Lacey, running back. He leads the team in rushing yards with 491 yards and 7TD's rushing and he'll need to get it going early on for the Tide to take this one. It's really a simple formula for a Tide victory and Lacey is the key to it all.
Key Player, Tennessee: Byron Moore, free safety. Moore has been a ball hawk and an equal opportunity hitter. He needs to continue to make quarterbacks pay for their mistakes as he's got 4 interceptions and 2 pass breakup's to go along with being 2nd on the team in tackles with 46. He'll be asked to also be a huge part of stopping the Tide rushing attack this week as well, so his play in a positive or negative fashion could tell us a lot about how this game is going.
Key Stat: 27% – That's the percentage of 3rd down conversions allowed by the Alabama defense. If Tennessee can't get better than that out of their 3rd down conversions on Saturday there is simply no way they win this game.
Overall this game is intriguing because these two teams are going to try and win in two completely opposite ways – 'Bama with the running game and the Vols with their air attack. Whomever is most successful with what they do best will win and if it's 'Bama you have to start wondering how soon Derek Dooley is given the pink slip. I know that may be harsh considering whom the Vols have played, but an 0-4 start in SEC play is unacceptable in Vols country.