I'm in a bit of an odd place this week. In my Georgia preview two weeks ago, I said I didn't understand the line, which was something like 2-3 points. I felt it should have been more, but most thought it was about right. They were right. This week, I wouldn't go so far as to say I don't understand the 15.5-point spread, but I am a bit suspicious of it. I think that's too high, but again, most are thinking that it's about right. Perhaps they're right again.
We'll see, but I'm still thinking that the Vols have a much better shot at this game than the spread suggests. They shouldn't be favored, nor should the game be considered a toss up. But I do think they're closer to striking distance than most are giving them credit for, and striking distance is really all you need.
Here are my three keys to this weekend's game:
Don't freak out about the Tide's run defense. We've heard a ton of talk about Alabama's stifling run defense this week. There's good reason for that, because they are very, very good. But you know who else has a great run defense? Florida, who's allowing only 117 rushing yards per game, and the Vols got 254 against them. Yes, Alabama's is even better, holding opponents to 70 rushing yards per game, but I don't think it's crazy to think that the Vols could get close to doubling that average. That is, if Jalen Hurd and/or ALVIIIINNNN! Kamara have good games, AND if they . . .
. . . Use Dobbs and Dobbs. And maybe Dobbs. Beating the Tide is going to take something special, something extra. Fortunately, the Vols have that something special and extra in the multi-dimensional Josh Dobbs. As Will pointed out earlier this week, great play from the quarterback is the common thread among Alabama's handful of losses over the past seven years. Not only that, but most of the guys who have done it -- Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, Nick Marshall, Cardale Jones, and others -- were dual threat QBs. The Tide defense is an NFL defense, and it will beat you 11-on-11. If the quarterback merely hands off to the running back, drops back to throw, or even runs play action or scrambles when there's no one to throw to, you will succumb to the Tide.
But if there's a weakness, it's dealing with a quarterback who will be five yards downfield before you know it because you're over-focused on the running back and passing game. Tennessee used Dobbs exceptionally well in the Florida game, when he led the team in rushing, passing, and receiving, and they should have won that game against a very good defense. Generally, when Dobbs runs well, the Vols win. So let's get the 12th guy the ball, push his button, and see what happens.
Be Who We Are, Do What We Do, The Sequel. I said this before the Georgia game, and it'ts almost what bit us. A Vols team that has done a great job all season of minimizing penalties and turnovers and capitalizing on terrific special teams play gave up a 99-yard fumble return for a touchdown and a punt return to boot. The Vols cannot afford that kind of nonsense in a game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. They must continue to do well what they've been doing well: Protect the ball. Don't fumble and don't throw interceptions. Don't waste precious downs and yards on stupid penalties at just the wrong time. Don't give up huge chunks of yards on special teams, but instead get huge chunks of yards on kick and punt returns multiple times. We've been doing that all season, and those magical mystery yards have kept the team in games. Do it again this week.
My prediction? Alabama 34, Tennessee 28-31. Striking distance, and then hope for something special to happen.
Here's the comparison chart. Tennessee's schedule to date is the 9th-most most difficult and Alabama's is the 34th-most difficult. If you're interested in advanced stats, you can find them here (Tennessee's | Alabama's). You're not going to like what they say -- 'Bama wins 34-17.
|Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Closest Lower||Closest Higher||Closest Lower||Closest Higher|
|Tennessee rushing offense vs. Alabama rushing defense||19||222||3||70.9||AR/FL||None||AR/FL||None||150|
|Tennessee passing offense vs. Alabama passing defense||80||212.7||41||201||AR||FL/GA||AR||FL/GA||210|
|Tennessee rushing defense vs. Alabama rushing offense||72||170.5||33||198.7||AR||GA||AR||GA||200|
|Tennessee passing defense vs. Alabama passing offense||90||248.5||68||231.4||GA||FL/AR||GA||FL/AR||260|
|Tennessee scoring offense vs. Alabama scoring defense||23||37.2||15||16.7||FL/OK/GA||None||FL/OK/GA||28-31|
|Tennessee scoring defense vs. Alabama scoring offense||61||25.7||32||35.6||GA/FL||OK/BG||GA/FL||OK/BG||34|