After getting back in the win column last weekend, Tennessee now faces a date with the No. 1 team in the land. The Volunteers will head south to Tuscaloosa to take part in the annual “Third Saturday In October” matchup — a game that’s been one sided since Nick Saban arrived.
As Alabama rose to power under Saban, Tennessee began its fall from grace. The Vols have been through an almost unbelievable drought over the last decade, losing every matchup to Alabama since 2007.
On Saturday, Tennessee might just face Alabama’s best offensive attack ever.
“They have to really work hard not to score 100 points a game,” Jeremy Pruitt said of the Alabama offense. “They have to work hard. And Coach Saban’s been kind. He was kind to us last year. He was kind to a lot of teams last year. Almost to the point, does it hurt to football team down the road because they don’t get an opportunity to play four quarters?”
Alabama won last year’s game in Knoxville 58-21, calling off the dogs late. Tua Tagovailoa has been outstanding once again, utilizing his four game-breaking wide receivers in the passing attack. DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle — just pick one. Any of the four can blow a game wide open for Alabama with Tua running the show.
The Crimson Tide sit 6th in total offense, but that number could be higher considering how Saban has taken his foot off the gas in the second half of games.
“They stretch you all over the field,” Pruitt said. “You’ve got to be able to take something away, you know? You’ve got to be able to play in space. You’ve got to tackle in space.”
Alabama’s passing attack is potent, but it’s a little different than the traditional spread attack. They utilize the run-pass option quite a bit, making you prepare for everything on a single play.
“When you look at them throwing the football, they throw the RPO game a lot, so there’s not a lot of protection,” Pruitt explained. “When it comes to the offensive line, they’re blocking a run play. They will also protect with six to seven guys lots of times. Maybe even eight guys and run two-man routes, when they’re in heavier packages, and push the ball down the field. But they throw every type of pass you can imagine out there.”
It’s strange to see Alabama ranking 58th in rushing yards per game, but that’s just been a product of a bit of a philosophy shift with Tagovailoa and all of these receivers on the offense. Obviously, you can’t sleep on Najee Harris, who is averaging over six yards per carry on the season.
The Tennessee defense has settled in a bit after a rocky start. Senior linebacker Daniel Bituli has brought leadership back to this group after missing the first two games. Bryce Thompson returned after missing the first three games, stabilizing the secondary. The Volunteers cracked the top 50 in total defense after an outstanding performance against Mississippi State.
Unfortunately for them, they’ll be without standout linebacker Henry To’o To’o in the first half after he was ejected in the second half against Mississippi State for targeting. Per NCAA rules, To’o To’o will have to sit out during the first half of the following game.
The line for this one sits at just over five touchdowns in favor of Alabama. The Tide will get theirs offensively against just about anyone, though. For Tennessee, it will be interesting to see how they battle and continue to fight throughout the night. Though their record sits at 2-4, we’ve seen some clear improvement since the open date. Somehow, Jeremy Pruitt has to keep that momentum going in the right direction on Saturday night.