22 October 2008
The Third Saturday in October in finally here! Sure it is really the 4th, but who’s counting? Alabama vs. Tennessee. Now it feels like football season.
Bama fans hate Tennessee and Tennessee fans hate Alabama. This is SEC football.
On paper, this should be an easy game for the Tide. Bama is undefeated and the Vols are 3-4 and trying to figure out who their next coach will be after Phil Fulmer is ultimately shown the door.
Unfortunately, games are not played on paper.
Alabama comes into the game having been outscored 64-13 in the second half of its’ last three games (thanks, glen55!). Fortunately, the Tide has held on to remain undefeated at 7-0 but their second half performances could eventually come back to haunt them down the road.
It took four games for Fulmer to figure out that Jonathan Crompton wasn’t the answer at quarterback. His meager two touchdown passes along with his four interceptions might have been a clue.
Enter Sophomore Nick Stephens. Stephens has a worse completion percentage than Crompton, 49.3 to 52.4, but has not thrown an interception in his three starts.
Stephens’s ability to take care of the ball has led to two wins in the last three games for Tennessee with wins over Northern Illinois and Mississippi State. The loss was to Georgia in Athens.
Arian Foster, a senior, leads the Vols rushing attack with 381 yards and a 4.8 yard per carry average. Foster has been an underrated back during his time in Knoxville.
Foster, with 2,775 career rushing yards, is 303 yards away from passing Travis Henry for the career rushing record at UT. So, naturally, Coach Fulmer limited him to eight carries in a loss to Auburn. It is like Fulmer doesn’t want the kid to break Henry’s record.
Senior Lucas Taylor leads the Vols with 21 catches for 269 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore playmaker Gerald Jones is a close second with 251 yards receiving but is doubtful for the game due to a high ankle sprain.
Jones’ absence could be a factor as he sometimes lines up in the backfield at tailback and quarterback for the Vols.
The Volunteer defense begins and ends with Eric Berry. The sophomore leads the nation with five interceptions and has already broken the SEC record for career interception yards with 397. By the way, that record was 60 years old.
Linebacker Elix Wilson, a junior, leads the team with 56 tackles. Berry is second with 44.
Tennessee also brings the 11th ranked rush defense into the game and averages giving up only 2.8 yards per attempt.
Rumor has it that Berry has been practicing on offense this week, reprising Jones' do-everything role for the Vols. I don’t think it really matters as evidenced by Ole Miss' lack of success with their Wild Hog formations a week ago.
This game will hinge on the quarterback Stephens and his ability to throw on Bama’s defense without turning it over. Jevan Snead had some success passing last Saturday and I would imagine the Vols have been studying that tape profusely.
Between the Tide rush defense and Fulmer’s lack of concern for getting Foster touches, the running game for UT shouldn’t get off the ground.
Offensively, the Tide will look to pound the football behind Andre Smith and Mike Johnson (spoiler alert!). If Glen Coffee doesn’t overcome his fumblitis, look for Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch to get increased carries as well.
John Parker Wilson will look for shorter passes early to keep the ball away from Berry, so look for Nick Walker to get more looks early. If Wilson can be successful in drawing Berry closer to the line of scrimmage via the run and the short passing game, then look for Bama to take some shots deep to Julio Jones and Marquis Maze.
Overall, I don’t see the Tide jumping out early a la the last few games but to pull away late. The intensity of this rivalry should keep the score close for a while with Bama pulling away late.