Tennessee Volunteers at Alabama Crimson Tide: game preview

A weekly look at our upcoming opponent's recent history, with animated drive charts and links to SB Nation game pages.

This is a long post full of moving pictures and stats, so I'm putting the conclusions and predictions both at the beginning and at the end.

Conclusions

  • Apart from Mark Ingram, who's become a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy, Alabama is a true team with no superstars. Julio Jones, Rolando McClain, and Terrence Cody are all superb players, but none shine in the national rankings. There can be no doubt, though, that the team is about as solid as they come, at least on defense.
  • Field position will be key. This is purely anecdotal based on viewing the drive charts (see below), but Alabama seems to have benefitted greatly from excellent starting field position.
  • The Crimson Tide's defense is absolutely suffocating, but their offense is merely very good. A woeful passing offense weighs down a terrific rushing attack.

Predictions

  • Alabama 24, Tennessee 16.

Schedule and Animated Drive Charts


Alabama Logo

@ Virginia Tech Sat 09/05 W 34 - 24
Fla. International Sat 09/12 W 40 - 14
North Texas Sat 09/19 W 53 - 7
Arkansas Sat 09/26 W 35 - 7
@ Kentucky Sat 10/03 W 38 - 20
@ Mississippi Sat 10/10 W 22 - 3
South Carolina Sat 10/17 W 20 - 6
Tennessee Sat 10/24 3:30 PM EDT
LSU Sat 11/07 TBA
@ Mississippi St. Sat 11/14 TBA
Chattanooga Sat 11/21 TBA
@ Auburn Fri 11/27 2:30 PM EST

 

FULL SCREEN VERSION

 

Man, this game seems like forever ago. Note those three field goals early for 'Bama despite great starting field position. The beginning of a trend? Note, too, all of the segmented lines (punts) for Virginia Tech (going left). Definitely the beginning of a trend, there.

FULL SCREEN VERSION

 

Hmm. Fifty-fifty TDs to FGs early in the game against an FCS opponent. No such problems late in the game. And man, they do seem to have good starting field position a lot of the time, don't they?

FULL SCREEN VERSION

 

Yikes. That there is the picture of a dominating game, and it's not just because North Texas's school color is almost indistinguishable from the field. Seven TDs to two FGs for the Tide, and barely a whimper from the green flying thingies.

FULL SCREEN VERSION

 

Wow. Defense. Against Ryan Mallett. Okay.

FULL SCREEN VERSION

 

Again, what's with the starting field position? No wonder Lane Kiffin isn't willing to pay 15 yards a half for the right to wear orange jerseys.

FULL SCREEN VERSION

 

There's that field position again. Ole Miss's defense did a pretty good job in this game, generally forcing the Tide into field goals instead of touchdowns. Don't look at the other end zone, though, because it's littered with four interceptions and a fumble. It's amazing this game was as close on the scoreboard as it was, but it could have been even closer if the Rebels could have done anything on offense other than turn the ball over.

FULL SCREEN VERSION

 

Like someone I know (okay, me), this game is . . . ahem . . . well-muscled in the middle. And sloppy? Whoa. Turnovers galore, missed field goals on both sides, a continuance of the general trend of settling for field goals rather than touchdowns . . . I don't suppose we can hope for that this week, too, can we?

National Unit Rankings

Now on to the national rankings.

Offensive Rankings
Category National
Rank
Actual National
Leader
Actual Conf
Rank
Southeastern
Conference Leader
Actual
Rushing Offense 9 229.29 Nevada 292.83 3 Florida 259.83
Scoring Offense 13 34.57 Texas 42.00 3 Florida 36.33
Total Offense 21 432.00 Houston 560.33 4 Florida 470.50
Sacks Allowed T-26 1.14 Oklahoma St. .33 5 Auburn .71
Passing Efficiency 43 136.81 Florida 167.25 4 Florida 167.25
Passing Offense 76 202.71 Houston 431.50 8 Arkansas 302.50

 

Offensive observations. The Tide are 9th in the nation in rushing offense. Their total offense and scoring offense rankings of 21st and 13th would be much higher if it was not for their significantly below average passing offense. They actually put up more yards per game running the ball (229) than they do throwing it (203). They do not lead the league in any offensive category.

Defensive Rankings
Category National
Rank
Actual National
Leader
Actual Conf
Rank
Southeastern
Conference Leader
Actual
Pass Efficiency Defense 1 83.82 Alabama 83.82 1 Alabama 83.82
Total Defense 1 226.57 Alabama 226.57 1 Alabama 226.57
Rushing Defense 3 63.29 Texas 35.83 1 Alabama 63.29
Scoring Defense 4 11.57 Florida 8.67 2 Florida 8.67
Sacks 11 3.00 Southern California 4.33 1 Alabama 3.00
Pass Defense 12 163.29 North Carolina 125.17 6 Florida 133.33
Tackles For Loss 23 7.29 Cincinnati 10.17 2 Arkansas 7.83

 

Defensive observations. Oh, my. Alabama's defense is first in the nation in both pass efficiency defense and total defense, and it's first in the SEC in those two categories plus rushing defense and sacks. They're holding opponents to 226 yards per game (63 on the ground and 163 through the air), and they've averaging three sacks and over seven tackles for loss per game. They're 4th in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 11.57 points per game. They are good. Scary good.

Special Teams and Turnovers Rankings
Category National
Rank
Actual National
Leader
Actual Conf
Rank
Southeastern
Conference Leader
Actual
Turnover Margin 12 1.00 Air Force 2.43 3 LSU 1.17
Punt Returns 13 15.88 Georgia Tech 24.88 1 Alabama 15.88
Kickoff Returns 45 22.95 Stanford 32.48 7 Arkansas 30.36
Net Punting 90 33.87 Georgia 44.06 10 Georgia 44.06

 

Special teams and Turnovers. The Crimson Tide leads the league in punt returns and ranks high nationally in both punt returns and turnover margin. They're only a little better than average at returning kickoffs, and they're not good (hey, something they don't do well!) at punting.

Stastical Comparison

Here's how the two teams stack up against each other in each of the key statistical categories in Hooper's wizbang BlogPoll Computerer:

 

Yes, that's advantage Tide in everything that correlates to winning.

Players to watch for

Category Player National
Rank
Actual
Rushing Mark Ingram 4 129.29
  Trent Richardson   51.29
Passing Efficiency (Min. 15 Att./Game) Greg McElroy 40 137.57
Total Offense Greg McElroy 74 193.14
  Mark Ingram   129.29
  Trent Richardson   51.29
Receptions Per Game Mark Ingram   2.71
  Colin Peek   2.71
Receiving Yards Per Game Marquis Maze   37.29
  Colin Peek   30.43
Interceptions Mark Barron T-36 .43
  Rolando McClain   .29
  Justin Woodall   .29
  Javier Arenas   .17
Punting (Min. 3.6 Punts/Game) P.J. Fitzgerald T-33 42.33
Punt Returns (Min. 1.2 Ret./Game) Javier Arenas 7 16.88
Kickoff Returns (Min. 1.2 Ret./Game) Javier Arenas 18 27.80
Field Goals Leigh Tiffin 3 2.29
Scoring Leigh Tiffin T-7 10.29
  Mark Ingram T-14 9.43
All-Purpose Runners Mark Ingram 17 155.86
  Javier Arenas   94.17
Sacks Eryk Anders T-68 .57
  Javier Arenas T-78 .50
  Marcell Dareus T-78 .50
Tackles Rolando McClain   7.00
Tackles For Loss Eryk Anders T-91 1.00
  Rolando McClain   .93
  Marcell Dareus   .79
  Terrence Cody   .71


Observations

Running backs. Alabama looks a lot like Tennessee here, but even better. Mark Ingram is a legit Heisman contender, ranking 4th in the nation in rushing at 129 yards per game. Complementing Ingram much like Bryce Brown complements Montario Hardesty, true freshman Trent Richardson is putting up an additional 51 yards per game. Ingram is also tied for 14th nationally in scoring, averaging 9.43 points per game.

Quarterbacks. Greg McElroy is about average, ranking 40th nationally in passing efficiency and 74th in total offense with 193 yards per game.

Receivers/Tight Ends. Huh. No Julio Jones listed here. The two leading receivers are Marquis Maze and Colin Peek with 37 and 30 yards per game respectively. Peek ties with RB Ingram for most receptions per game.

Defense. Mark Barron is tied for 36th nationally in interceptions, but other than that, no defensive players rank in the top half of the nation. Do not be fooled, though, as the team defensive rankings lead to the conclusion that while there may not be any superstar stat-gatherers on defense, the unit is solid at every position. No one seems to have found a weakness to exploit.

Special teams. Watch out for Javier Arenas (if he returns from injury) on both punt and kick returns. Leigh Tiffin is about as good a place-kicker as a team could hope for.

Head to Head Comparisons

  Tennessee Logo Alabama Logo
Best Comparable
Result Against Best Comparable
Prediction
UT rush v. AL rush defense
184
63
Florida (95)
117
80
UT pass v. AL pass defense
209
163
Florida (133)
93
170
AL rush v. UT rush defense
110
229
Florida (260)
208
180
AL pass v. UT pass defense
162
202
Ohio (203)
319
200
UT score
32
12
Florida (9)
13
16
AL score
20
35
Florida (36)
Auburn (35)
23
26
24

 

I supposed I should explain. This is not math. It's simply looking at each team's current respective performance in a particular aspect of the game (e.g., Tennessee's rushing game versus Alabama's rushing defense), then looking for the team that we've already played that compares best to Alabama's current performance and seeing how we did against that team, and then making a non-mathy but informed prediction about how we might do in that aspect of the game. Example: Tennessee is rushing for 184 yards per game, but Alabama is only allowing 63 yards per game on the ground. The best comparable (that we've already played) is Florida, which is allowing 95 yards on the ground, and we got 117 against them. So maybe we can expect to do just a little bit better than what Alabama typically allows -- 63 yards per game -- and manage 80 yards on the ground this Saturday.

The prediction then is that Alabama gains 120-150 more yards and scores 8-10 more points.

Conclusions

  • Apart from Mark Ingram, who's become a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy, Alabama is not a team full of stars. Julio Jones, Rolando McClain, and Terrence Cody are all superb players, but none shine in the national rankings. There can be no doubt, though, that the team is about as solid as they come, at least on defense.
  • Field position will be key. This is purely anecdotal based on viewing the drive charts, but Alabama seems to have benefitted greatly from excellent starting field position.
  • The Crimson Tide's defense is absolutely suffocating, but their offense is merely very good. A woeful passing offense weighs down a terrific rushing attack.

Predictions

  • Alabama gains 120-150 more yards than does Tennessee and wins 24-16.
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