Since his initial 7-6 season at Alabama, Nick Saban is an incredible 84-11 in the last seven years. This includes three National Championships and an unblemished record against the Vols. Since 2008 only three major conference programs (plus Boise State's .870 mark) have won more than 80% of their games: Ohio State (.827), Oregon (.851), and Alabama (.884).
When going against the best program in America, you would expect to need all kinds of unusual breaks to get the best of them. And yet, when you look at Alabama's 11 losses in the last seven years, only one really stands out as the Tide being particularly unlucky: the 9-6 overtime loss to LSU in the 2011 regular season, featuring four missed field goals. In their other ten losses Alabama is -12 in turnovers; not helpful to their chances, but averaging -1.2 in the turnover battle per game is also not the primary reason they're getting beat.
Instead, the biggest statistical anomaly in Alabama's losses outside the 9-6 fiasco? It's all about the quarterback, baby.
|Year||Opponent||Score||Quarterback||Comp||Att||Yds||TD||INT||YPA||BAMA DEF AVG YPA|
|2010||South Carolina||35-21||Stephen Garcia||17||20||201||3||1||10.1||6.2|
|2010||LSU||24-21||J. Jefferson/J. Lee||14||20||208||1||0||10.4||6.2|
|2012||Texas A&M||29-24||Johnny Manziel||24||31||253||2||0||8.2||6.1|
|2014||Ole Miss||23-17||Bo Wallace||18||31||251||3||0||8.1||6.4|
|2014||Ohio State||42-35||Cardale Jones||18||35||243||1||1||6.9||6.4|
Want to beat Bama? Better give your QB the A+ material in the pep talk.
These numbers are incredible, and it's incredible that they come from the full spectrum of Heisman winners to Stephen Garcia. All of them were clean, only three picks in ten games. Eight of the ten put up at least eight yards per attempt on the vaunted Tide defense. The other two were still incredibly effective: Cardale Jones may have only gotten 6.9 yards per attempt, but he had an absurd 13.5 yards per completion. And Nick Marshall also ran 17 times for 99 yards.
The unusually huge YPA numbers show the Tide have been vulnerable to the deep ball; Alabama has given up seven touchdown passes of 30+ yards in these ten losses. Alabama has given up huge passing numbers in a couple of close calls as well, most notably against West Virginia (8.1 YPA allowed) and Auburn (10.6) last year, in the return match with Manziel in 2013 (11.9), and in to-the-wire wins over Zach Mettenberger (8.2) and Aaron Murray (8.3) in 2012.
So if this is the formula, could Josh Dobbs be the solution?
He was decent through the air against Alabama last season (19 of 32, 192 yards, 2 TD 1 INT, 6.0 YPA) while adding 19 carries for 75 yards. But considering the circumstances, Dobbs' performance against the Tide was a revelation. It certainly led to bigger and better things for the Vols in November and January. Is he capable of joining this list this fall?
Regardless of opponent, Tennessee has to get better at landing the deep ball. Last year the Vols only completed 13 passes of 30+ yards (99th nationally) and only five passes of 40+ yards (103rd nationally). Much of this is on the offensive line, which struggled to hold blocks long enough for Vol receivers to get downfield. But if Dobbs and any number of his receivers can develop a consistent downfield connection, Tennessee's offense will become even more dangerous. And if the Vols can have it in their arsenal by the Third Saturday in October, perhaps a special day from Tennessee's quarterback could have Tennessee writing their name on one of the hardest lists to crack in college football.