Alabama vs. Tennessee; Preview
Tuscaloosa– Some call it a rivalry, others call it an easy win. Well whatever you call it, the Alabama Crimson Tide will travel north this weekend to face the Tennessee Volunteers for their annual regular season game. While in past years, both teams have play extremely well and dominated the scoreboards, ever since Nick Saban stepped foot onto campus, Alabama is seven and o against the Vols. Heck, the only time Tennessee was every close was back when Lane Kiffin was head coach and Terrence Cody had the blocked field goal.
The Crimson Tide (6-1 (3-1 SEC)) are coming off a monster win over the Texas A&M Aggies with a score of 59-0. However, Alabama has struggled away from Bryant-Denny Stadium this season and that could be an issue Saturday evening. Led by Quarterback Blake Sims, Alabama is out to set a name for themselves as the rightful ruler of the SEC West. Still, anything can happen on the road and in Alabama’s case, it usually does this year.
The Volunteers (3-4 (0-3 SEC)) are coming off a huge loss to the Ole Miss Rebels 34-3. Led by Head Coach Butch Jones, Tennessee has the pieces to be a knockout team, just not the age factor or leaders to really step up at the moment. Tennessee in fact is one of the youngest teams in the SEC having more under class-men this season then in any other season in recent years. This game also will be the first time former head coach and now Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will return to Knoxville to visit his former team. Let’s just say he probably won’t be greeted with open arms.
Can Alabama keep the ball rolling? Can Tennessee finally upset the Crimson Tide? let’s dive in and see what these teams have to do to pull out a W on Saturday.
Things to Know
Date: Saturday, October 25, 2014
Where: Neyland Stadium; Knoxville, Tennessee
Time: 7:30 EST, 6:30 CST
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, Vol Network
Keys To Victory: Alabama
> Play Like They’re At Home
The Crimson Tide are undefeated at home this season and, well let’s face it; have dominated anyone who has stepped foot in Bryant-Denny. Alabama has outscored all their opponents at home 194-33. Alabama on the road however has only outscored their opponents 64-59. If Alabama wants to win big, they have to play like they are at home. The offensive line must protect Blake Sims against a vicious AJ Johnson and Amari Cooper can not have a performance like he had against the Razorbacks. While Alabama could possibly win this game with their road woes, they need to also prepare for a still talented and hungry LSU team in two weeks.
> Run Derrick Run
Last week, it seemed as if Sims could just toss the ball to Derrick Henry and he could run everywhere. In fact that’s exactly what he did on his two yard screen turned 41 yard touchdown run last week against the Aggies. Make no mistake, TJ Yeldon will get the ball more then Henry on Saturday, but Henry will have to be the run to find the end zone. With his combination of size of speed he should be able to cut his way up into the Vols secondary. From there it’s just a quick spin move against a underrated safety and Henry will find his way in the end zone. one thing is clear; find Henry, he’ll find the end zone.
Keys to Victory: Tennessee
> Get In The Backfield
In the past three games against the Rebels, Razorbacks and Aggies, Blake Sims has at least thrown one pass that should have been a interception returned the other way but way dropped. That’s the first way Tennessee might be able to win this game, and they certainly have the talent to do so. Led by AJ Johnson, the Vols will have to pressure that offensive line and find away into the back field. If they can force Sims to get out of the pocket and make a dumb throw like last time, they will be in great shape to keep Alabama off the field and out of the end zone. Still, even if they can’t get to Sims, if they can get a tackle on Yeldon or Henry for a loss of yards they’re still in good shape.
> Don’t Get Fooled on Kiffin’s Play Calls
Sure, half the plays last week against the Aggies were all just great execution by Alabama players. But, who called those plays? none other the Lane Kiffin himself. While the pure hatred of the former Tennessee coach echoes through Knoxville, they still need to be ready for anything he calls on Saturday. Kiffin has been known to pull some crazy tricks this season, (the first play vs Florida, Blake Sims 43 yard run) and will for sure be calling them this weekend against his old team. Tennessee needs to remain clam on defense and watch the play entirely before trying to make a tackle. Oh, and the one thing Tennessee must do that A&M must have forgotten…WRAP UP
Players to Watch: Alabama
> Ryan Kelly
After injuring himself in Oxford, Ryan Kelly is back in the line-up for Saturday’s game. While he is a little rusty, it’s nice to have back the starting center of the last two years on the offense. Still, Kelly must take it easy on his knee this game, there’s no reason for him to come back just to get re-injured. Kelly will be taking on many blocks from defensive tackle Danny O’Brien and will have to make a huge hole in the A gap for his running back. If Kelly can produce like he did before the injury, Alabama should be fine with not only running the ball, but with their confidence up front.
> Reggie Ragland
Last week, a reporter asked Ragland, “Why do you think you’re playing better this year” forgetting he was behind All-American linebacker CJ Mosley. Ragland just smiled and said “Well, I’m playing a lot more, that’s why.” Since stepping on the field Ragland has play phenomenal this season. He is second on the team with tackles and third with interceptions a sacks. This week Ragland will be going up against a very young and inexperienced offensive line and he could possibly have a field day with them. If he can hide the blitz or going into coverage, he might be able to add on a few more sacks or interceptions this week. Expect to see Ragland shine once again in Knoxville.
Players to Watch: Tennessee
> AJ Johnson
There’s only one true player that Alabama should fear on Saturday and that is AJ Johnson. After a mediocre junior season, Johnson has returned for his final year as a Vol and been the heart and soul of their defense. He leads the team in tackles and sacks and definitely will try to add a few more on his way to making a name for himself in the NFL. Alabama is known for running the ball and Johnson can definitely help prevent the run if give the opportunity to. The Tide has yet to face up against a line backer like Johnson all season and probably won’t again. If they give him a chance to make a play, he will fly at that chance.
While having an OK freshman campaign, Marquez North has made a name for himself in the Vols locker room this season. This year he has 26 receptions for 264 yards and four touchdowns. With Alabama still trying to find all their pieces in the secondary, North will have a chance to make the Crimson Tide’s corners look silly Saturday night. At 6-4 220, North is one of the bigger wide receivers Alabama will face this year and also one of the faster. If give the chance to break away, Watch North tear up the Tide’s last wall of resistances and keep the game close.
The X-Factor: Alabama
> Lane Kiffin
When one hears homecoming,it usually means something positive. In Lane Kiffin’s case, not so much. It’s been five years since that infamous move Kiffin made to leave Knoxville and leave for USC and fans still haven’t forgotten. Kiffin showed fans last week that he could put up points unmercifully and he might just do that to get back at all the rude comment Vol fans have made to him over the years. Then again, he could also be scared for his life and make terrible play calls. Heck, even his mother has said she wants him up in the box and not on the field. So no matter if it’s a slaughter house by Alabama or a huge upset by Tennessee, All eyes will be Kiffin and how he reacts at returning back to Knoxville.
The X-Factor: Tennessee
> Justin Worley
While this season hasn’t been a strong one for the senior from South Carolina, Justin Worley still has a few things to be proud of. He has thrown two more touchdowns this year then last season, but also has the same amount of interceptions. The key issue is Worley has been sacked 23 more times this season then last year thanks to a young offensive line. While Worley might get thrown down a lot, he does has a very well known arm strength that could help him try and pull the upset. Basically, if Worley can stay on his feet, he might be able to pass all over Alabama Saturday evening.
In the famous “Third Saturday in October” match-up, Alabama leads the series 50-38-7. While Tennessee is a great team on the rise, right now isn’t the time they can compete. Alabama won’t completely blow-out the Volunteers, but they will make a statement and prove they can play on the road as well as they can at home. Except an early touchdown run from either Blake Sims or Derrick Henry. From there, the Alabama defense will be all over the offensive line of Tennessee. At that point, Game. Set. Match. So Alabama fans, get those cigars ready to light as Alabama will roll over Tennessee in Knoxville.
Prediction: Alabama-42, Tennessee-20
Cole Thompson is the Alabama Beat Reporter for WVUA-FM. Follow him on twitter at @ColeThompson32