For the last eight years, one of the most historic SEC rivalries has become extremely one-sided. The annual "Third Saturday in October" rivalry game between the Tennessee Volunteers and Alabama Crimson Tide has gone one way over the last eight seasons, and all but one of those eight games haven't even been close. Alabama has won eight straight games against Tennessee by an average of 19.6 points each contest while holding the Vols to 20 points or fewer in all eight games. In fact, the Vols haven't scored more than 20 points against the Tide since a 51-43 multi-overtime Tennessee victory in 2003.
One of the main reasons Alabama has been able to dominate Tennessee for nearly a decade has been their ability to control the run game on both sides of the ball. Not once has Tennessee out-gained the Tide on the ground in the last eight games, and the Vols have only had one running back eclipse 100 rushing yards during the eight game losing streak (Tauren Poole in 2010). The Vols have routinely been out-rushed by Alabama since the current losing streak began in 2007, and it's led to several lopsided wins for the Tide.
Last season, however, Tennessee was able to find some success on the ground, rushing for their highest total during the 8-game losing streak. The Vols ran for 181 yards against Alabama last season thanks to the efforts of quarterback Joshua Dobbs, and the dual-threat option at quarterback helped Tennessee put up their most points against Alabama in over a decade. If the Vols are to pull off the upset this weekend and end the losing streak, they will need more of the same from the rushing game.
While Tennessee has an even more potent rushing attack this season than last year, Alabama will by far be the toughest test this team will face in terms of run defense. The Vols are averaging 222 yards a game on the ground, second best in the SEC behind only LSU. But Tennessee will be facing the No. 1 run defense in the SEC in Alabama, as the Tide give up only 70.9 rushing yards a game, which is good for 3rd overall in the entire NCAA. Alabama has only given up 100 rushing yards to a team once, and that was to Georgia and only because Nick Chubb ripped off an 83-yard touchdown run in garbage time.The Vols may have caught Alabama off guard last year with what all Dobbs was able to do in the run game, but teams don't typically fool Nick Saban twice. Tennessee will have to play like they did against Georgia if they are to have any shot of pulling off this upset.
Not only has Alabama been able to dominate Tennessee in the run game every year during this current 8-game losing streak, but the Tide have been able to get the most out of their best players against the Vols. Tennessee has had a bad knack of letting some of Alabama's best players have career games against them since this losing streak started. Whether it's been Amari Cooper, Julio Jones, and D.J. Hall burning Tennessee's secondary, Trent Richardson and T.J. Yeldon torching the Vols on the ground, or Terrence Cody blocking two field goals in the fourth quarter, the Vols have let Alabama's best players make big plays against them.
If Tennessee wants any chance of winning this Saturday, they need to limit the damage Alabama's best players do against them. Running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver Calvin Ridley are the best players on Alabama's offense this year, and the Vols must be able to contain them. And it's about time Tennessee's best players make some plays against the Tide as well. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running back Jalen Hurd, and Tennessee's special teams players will need to have big days like Alabama's past players have in order to keep the Vols in the game.
The Vols face a daunting task on Saturday when they face No. 8 Alabama on the road. An 8-game losing streak to the Tide hangs over this team, and most of those losses haven't even been close. Tennessee is going to have to put an end to several trends that have established themselves over the last decade against Alabama if they want to win. Unless they can do that, Alabama will remain on top for a ninth straight year.