This is a matchup nightmare for the Vols. Alabama’s offense is probably the best overall unit in the country and Tennessee’s defense is improving, but it still has a lot of work to do moving forward.
On defense, Alabama isn’t what it usually is, but it’s a unit that continues to improve each week. The Vols are going to start either Brian Maurer or Jarrett Guarantano, but Alabama certainly holds the advantage no matter who starts.
As always, there are games within the game that will determine the overall outcome. In this week’s case, a few of those may be more fun to watch than the game itself after you consider what is likely to happen.
1. Sack Contest
If I told you that the Vols were tied with Bama for the same amount of sacks in 2019, would you believe me?
I’m many things, but a liar I am not. Both teams are 42nd in the country with 15 sacks on the year. They come from all different directions, too. The Tide have 10 different players with at least a half-sack and the Vols have 11 different players with at least a half-sack.
So which team will break the tie on Saturday?
Bama has the edge on the offensive line and in pass protection. Tua Tagovailoa has been dropped just seven times this year, compared to 13 sacks given up by Tennessee’s offensive line. The Vols are improving up front, however, as they’ve seen opposing sack totals drop each week since the Florida game. The Bulldogs bottomed out with just one sack last week.
Game flow also works in the Tide’s favor. They will likely get up big early, resulting in more runs for Bama and more passes for the Vols, or, they could just run the football all day.
Jeremy Pruitt has shown that he can get creative with his blitzes, like he did last week against Mississippi State. He’ll definitely need to do that this week if he wants to get to Tagovailoa.
In all, this will be fun to watch and it’ll be interesting to see who comes out on top in the end.
2. Tennessee’s Secondary vs. Alabama’s Wide Recievers
I don’t know if you’ve watched Alabama at all this year, but in case you haven’t, you should know this:
Their receivers are really, really good.
The trio of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, and Devonta Smith are one of the most - if not the most - lethal receiving corps in the country. Smith is 9th in the country (636), Jeudy is 23rd (538), and Ruggs is tied for 79th (394) in terms of total receiving yards. All three rank in the top-25 in terms of individual receiving touchdowns (20 total) and no other trio in the country have hauled in more touchdown passes.
For the sake of comparison, the Vols have just one receiver in the top-200 in terms of total receiving yards, and that’s Jauan Jennings, who sits at 68th with 412 yards.
Tagovailoa is currently third in the nation with 2,011 passing yards and leads the nation with 27 passing touchdowns. Jeudy, Ruggs, and Smith account for 1,568 - or 78% - of Tagovailoa’s yards and 20 - or 74% - of Tagovailoa’s touchdowns.
So, not only are these guys dominant in the roles on their team, but their dominant amongst their peers. All three have incredible skill sets that are only exponentiated with Tagovailoa behind center.
As you can see, Tennessee’s secondary will have three major headaches to deal with on Saturday night. If Bryce Thompson and co. can even slightly slow these guys down, it will be considered a major win.
3. Trey Smith Is Officially Back
It feels very safe to say that Trey Smith is back after winning the SEC Player of the Week for his 11 pancakes against the Bulldogs last week.
This is such an incredible story and Smith is a great kid, so he deserves every bit of good karma that hopefully continues to come his way. The fact that he is where he is now after people thought his football career was over less than a year ago is amazing.
His ascension couldn’t have come at a better time, either. The Vols will need to run the ball if they want any shot at winning this game. That will keep Bama’s offense off the field and will also allow the offense to get into rhythm, which is something that has rarely happened this year.
Smith will be the key to accomplishing that.
What better time for him to have the best game of his career?