It was pointed out to me this week that Saturday will mark the 30th game between Tennessee and Alabama in my lifetime. In those games, the record is an even 13-13-1. At no time in my life has UT held a winning record over the Tide -- I don't mean the overall series record that now stands at 44-38-8 in favor of the bad guys, I just mean the games played in the span of my lifetime. Added to that is my felling that this game, The Third Saturday in October, is still the biggest game of the year for Tennessee. I know the Florida game is bigger from the division record standpoint, but I grew up on hating Alabama, and I'd still rather win this one than any other.
So needless to say, I'm pretty fired up about Saturday. Here's three random things I'm looking to happen in the game:
1. Run dominance continues -- Want to know why Tennessee has looked so much better in October? This might be a clue: in two games this month, the Vols have nearly as many yards (401) as they had through four games in September (529). The number of rushing TDs -- five -- has already matched last month's production, too. And Cutcliffe is no longer paying lip-service to increasing the run game's role in the offense, he's actually delivering, as the average run plays per game has increased from 31 in September to 43 in October.
Meanwhile, the defense that was getting shredded to the tune of 5.16 yards/carry, 188 yards/game, and seven touchdowns allowed through four games has given up just one rushing TD while lowering those averages to 3.3 ypc and 102 ypg in the last two games. For Tennessee to win, they'll need to continue these trends on the ground, an I believe they'll do just that.
2. Ainge throws 0 interceptions -- A year ago, Simeon Castille had Ainge in Orange's number, picking off two passes in the first half. The second one was a turning point in the game and, I think, a turning point in Ainge's career. With Castille streaking toward the checkerboards, Ainge took a good angle and brought the Alabama safety down. The Tide went on to score a field goal and Ainge rebounded to lead the Vols on a game-winning fourth-quarter drive. Had Bama got the full seven on that play, I'm not sure Ainge would have had the confidence to lead the charge.
Still, that game was not one of the best in Ainge's career, and I would not be surprised to see him come out on a mission to erase the memories of his INTs against the Tide last year. I think he'll have options, too, because no doubt Saban has noticed what everyone else seems to have noticed this week: that Lucas Taylor is pretty darn good. Extra attention paid to Taylor could mean good things for the rest of the Vol wide receivers, and this could be the week they finally have the breakthrough we've been looking for.
3. Rico McCoy has 10 tackles -- I've got no justification for this one, just a feeling that McCoy will have a good game. I just hope I don't have the same guy sitting behind me who sat behind me at the Georgia game, the guy who would yell "RICOOOOOO! RICOOOOOO!" after every McCoy tackle. I'll never forget that Rico McCoy had eleven tackles in that game, because I heard his name 22 times.
In the end, I think Tennessee is just better than Alabama. Of course, I've seen better Tennessee teams lose to worse Alabama teams before -- oh, gawd, the numbers 6-3 and 9-6 just flashed through my head -- but I'm fairly confident that these Vols will pull though 31-20 and the "playoff run" will continue for at least another week.
Go Vols! Beat Bama!