For the past 11 years, the Third Saturday in October has ended in either heartbreak or embarrassment for the Vols. I have to say that whenever I have sat down to watch the Tide play this season, I find myself having to manually close my own mouth because my jaw is always dropping wide open. Alabama has consistently had a great football team for the past decade but I’ve never seen anything like this team. Growing up an avid Tennessee fan, I almost feel guilty for being so enthralled with this Alabama team. Am I annoyed that Bama keeps winning? Yes, very much so. Am I bored watching them play? Absolutely not. Recently I have overheard multiple college football fans talk about how easy it would be to recruit in Tuscaloosa and how terrible Saban is at recruiting. Really? Under Saban, Alabama is 127-20. He’s won over 85% of the games he has coached in during the past 11 years. He has led his team to win 10 of his 14 bowl game appearances. He has 5 SEC championships and 5 National Championships. Sure, sign me up. I’ll play for him. Maybe he’s a terrible people person but do recruits care about that? Nope. He wins football games. Who cares what kind of personality he has? Not to mention the coaches that have coached under or with Saban and have turned into excellent head coaches themselves; Mark Dantonio (MSU), Bobby Williams (Oregon), JimBo Fisher (Texas A&M), Jim McElwain (Gamecocks), Kirby Smart (Georgia) Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee), and Lane Kiffin (FAU). They seemed to have learned a couple of things from him I’d say. Nick Saban has made Alabama the face of college football. The one thing that other college football fans can not stand about the program are their bias fans. Other than that, they secretly admire the program and what Saban has done for college football, even if they don’t admit it.
All of that to say, this season, Alabama has scored on the first drive in every single game (and most of those were during the first or second play). So, what is it going to take for Tennessee to beat the Tide in Knoxville this weekend? Keep Tua off the field. Keep Alabama’s defense on the field. Guarantano and Tua are almost equal in terms of passing – each have thrown about 120 times and completed around 80 of those passes. Guarantano has thrown for 6 TD’s with 2 interceptions and roughly 1,100 yards. Tua, on the other hand, in 6 games, he has thrown for almost 1,700 yards, 21 throwing TD’s and 6 rushing TD’s. The Vols are going to have to figure out how to generate turnovers and then they MUST capitalize points on those turnovers in order to make up for the damage that Tua will be doing to the Volunteer’s defense.
With the expectation of Tua being active this week, after his knee sprain against Missouri last Saturday, the Vols are going to have to put pressure on him and win at the line of scrimmage. If they give Tua enough time in the pocket, we all know how the game will end. Load the box and bring the house. I guess it helps that Pruitt coached against Tua during practice last year and has some inside knowledge about how to prepare his defense for Saturday.
On defense, Alabama has a pretty thin secondary. If they win the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball, the Vols will have no way to generate yards on the ground and Guarantano will not have time to get the ball down the field to his receivers. The Vols have to limit Alabama’s opportunities to blitz. That means keeping the ball on their side as long as they can during each drive and avoiding third and long.
Odds are, Alabama is not going to surprise anyone by not showing up in Neyland on Saturday. Knoxville is going to have to show up to cheer their Vols on Saturday and they will need to play a perfect game. If the Vols don’t get it done this week, LSU is hosting the Tide the first week of November. Both teams will be coming off of a bye week and the SEC Championship representative from the west will most likely be decided. Death Valley is scary place to play and Ed Orgeron is coming off of a solid win in which his Tigers embarrassed and exposed #2 Georgia. (‘Go Tigers’ – *Ed Orgeron voice*) Only time will tell if Alabama will be beat this year, but if they get past these two teams, we will most likely be watching them play over the New Year’s holiday.