Despite the new high-octane, Josh Heupel offense, the Vols aren’t so much running into this year’s Third Saturday in October are they’re limping into it. Injuries to Hendon Hooker, Cade and Cooper Mays and Tiyon Evans are threatening to hamper Tennessee’s chances before the Vols are even out of the gate. As if Tennessee needs to make this game any harder on itself, right?
While I didn’t bother asking Brent what exactly is a Crimson Tide, or how any group of people who wear Houndstooth unironically could ever criticize Tennessee fans’ attachment to the color orange, I did ask about Alabama’s offense and Bill O’Brien; the current state of the “rivalry,”; what ‘Bama fans think of former Vol LB Henry To’o To’o; and which skill players have been tasked with filling the Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith-sized shoes on offense.
1) Traditionally, this series has been pretty streaky, but currently Alabama is on a run of 14-straight wins that seems likely to keep on as long as Saban does. Do the Tide fans still consider this a rivalry game?
Oh yes, and don’t let the media tell you we don’t just because the game isn’t giving them ratings anymore. The bars in Tuscaloosa stop selling any whiskey from Tennessee this week, the I Hate Tennessee video is played all across town on looping repeat, and the color orange is just totally banned. Sure, Auburn has given us a lot of grief in the last two decades, but ultimately they’re annoying and frustrating little brother that we just want to go away... Whereas we HATE Tennessee and want the entire program to be fired into the sun.
And don’t even get me started with LSU. That game has only been competitive twice in the last decade, yet the Cajuns are bound and determined to pretend like we care about them any more than we do the Mississippi schools.
Of course, many of Alabama’s players are national recruits that just don’t know the stakes at play... But I guarantee they are schooled by the time October rolls around.
2) If you were the Tennessee coaches, how would you game plan to beat this ‘Bama team?
We’re going to dive deeper into this in later questions, but you have three keys to beating this Tide defense: challenge our soft front 7, throw the ball to your running backs out of the backfield, and throw to your tight end (it’s apparently illegal to cover tight ends in Pete Golding’s defense). Do those things and you’ll probably have a really good day on offense. Defensively, you probably won’t shut down the Alabama offense, but just make sound tackles and hang on enough for a turnover, drop, or the Alabama defense to blow it.
3) I find it interesting that Alabama beat Ole Miss like it did — holding the Rebel offense to just 21 points — but then went out and gave up 41 in a loss to A&M. I think it’s probably a little inaccurate to call a defense allowing just north of 20 points per-game “inconsistent,” but is that side of the ball an area of concern?
Oh it’s definitely been inconsistent and a concern. We crushed the two Mississippi schools with their more high-powered offenses, and then just tried to pretend tight ends don’t exist against A&M and Florida while just getting bullied on up the middle runs in the run game. Ultimately, Saban’s defense is now built to chase plays to the sidelines and shut down deep balls (basically what got us killed at times earlier this decade when the spread was gaining traction), but in the process the defense has lost an edge up front.
4) Speaking of defense — how’s former Vol LB Hank T doing this season? I mean, I know he’s starting and racking up some tackles — but have you guys been happy with his play?
Well... It depends on the week. He’s made some great plays and displays crazy closing speed and quick instincts at times... But he’s also been the culprit many times of just getting absolutely washed by blockers or blowing what should have been an easy tackle. Overall he’s been a very good player (better than our last three years of Mike linebackers for sure), but has been on the bad end of some very visible mistakes.
5) I expected the UA offense to take a step back, with two WRs getting drafted in the first 10 picks of the NFL Draft, freshman Bryce Young replacing Mac Jones and Bill O’Brien taking over as offensive coordinator. But 45 points and nearly 500 yards per-game seem to indicate that’s not happened. Are these high-powered offenses just the status quo at Alabama now, no matter who the OC is?
In ways, there actually has been a step back. I know, I know, #AlabamaProblems. But the Tide’s offense really has been just a little less effective in a lot of facets compared to last year: Bryce Young has really struggled to hit deep shots, the receiving cast as a whole has had issues with drops, and the offensive line struggled to run block effectively early in the season before seemingly figuring that out and forgetting how to pass block at the same time.
In O’Brien’s case, I objectively think he’s done a good job with changing gameplans mid game to combat the opponents’ defensive strategies. At the same time, his passing schemes heavily favor a lot of stick routes that lead to increased efficiency at converting downs, but limits explosiveness due to a lack of routes designed to maximize yards after catch.
5B) Follow up: Do you think O’Brien sending out a five-WR package when ‘Bama faced a third-and-goal at the Mississippi one-yard line last week was O’Brien angling to be fired so that he’ll be available to take the Patriots job once it opens up? (/insert smiley here)
Look, Saban’s not throwing anyone under the bus, so neither am I! Fortunately, Nick never uses any of his timeouts in the first half anyway, so no heads had to roll.
6) The last line I’ve seen is ‘Bama -25. Where are you putting your money?
Never, ever, ever pick Nick Saban to cover a big spread at home. On the road? Sure. But not at home. Tennessee will cover, and I’m not hesitant on that at all.
7) Will Anderson has been an absolute terror coming off the edge this year. He had four sacks last week, bringing his total for the year to seven (which makes up for more than 1/3 of Alabama’s total teams sacks — I think).
I mean... he’s just a SOPHOMORE. Where’s his ceiling?
Anderson was awesome and disruptive as a true freshman last year, but just couldn’t quite get the sacks for the first 3/4 of the season. This year, though? Man. He’s already the best edge rusher we’ve had under Nick Saban. And the way he’s stepped up the last two weeks and is doing his best to drag all of his teammates into practicing and focusing harder has been almost legendary. If he continues with this production pace, he’s going to be the #1 overall draft pick in 2023. He’s got the mindset to do it, too. I only fear he’s going to push himself too hard and get taken down by injury.
8) It’s been quite the run of offensive skill players going from Alabama to the NFL lately. Does this team have a guy comparable to Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith?
John Metchie is a solid, physical receiver, but has been plagued by some drops and hasn’t been the deep threat that he was last season. Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams is nutty fast, is good for one breakaway touchdown per game, and has been improving each week at aspects other than going deep, but, again, has also been prone to drops at bad times. They’re both talented receivers, but they aren’t surefire 1st round picks like Jeudy, Ruggs, Smith, and Waddle were the last 3 years.
9) When I was looking up Will Anderson’s numbers, I noticed Alabama’s allowed 16 sacks in seven games so far this season. While that figure doesn’t jump out as egregious — looking at you and your 25, Tennessee — I assume that’s more than Saban would reasonably prefer. The unit lost three cogs to the NFL and its coach to Texas. All things considered: has this offensive line been better or worse than expected?
It’s definitely been worse than expected. LT Evan Neal is great, and LG Javion Cohen came out of nowhere and has been really solid. RG Emil Ekiyor was injured all offseason and his play clearly wasn’t up to par early on, though he’s definitely improved. The issues have been at center and right tackle. In his first season as a starter Darrian Dalcourt’s shotgun snaps have been about as accurate as an actual sawed off shotgun, and he’s busted wwaaaaaayyy too many blitz pickups. Meanwhile, 6th year senior Chris Owens has been a good spot reserve on the interior the last few years, but is clearly out of his league at RT. Getting beat 1v1 with speed rushes has gotten Bryce Young killed way too many times.
10) UGA beat Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky by a combined score of 101-23 (don’t go and double check my math), will play Florida this week and then might just coast into the SEC Title game undefeated. How much attention are Tide fans paying to the 7-0 Georgia Bulldogs?
Ummmm, honestly, we fully expected to play Georgia in the SEC Championship as the toughest game of the year from the start of the season anyway. So it doesn’t really change anything for our playoff hopes. Win, and we’re in. I think they’ve been a little better than expected, and we’re maybe viewing them as even tougher if not the outright favorite, but, like I said, doesn’t really change anything. And hey, Kirby does love to choke a big game!