TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — No. 1 Alabama travels to No. 9 Tennessee for its third SEC road test on Saturday. Kickoff from Neyland Stadium is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
Here are five things to watch:
5. Will injured starters play?
The injury status for two Alabama starters is still up in the air at this point. Linebacker Reuben Foster and right guard Alphonse Taylor are both dealing with concussions.
“Reuben was back at practice today, and Alphonse Taylor is not so I would say he’s probably pretty questionable for this game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. “There’s no decision that has been made. We have a protocol for every injury a guy has. We’re not going to put any player on the field until he fulfills the protocol, we know he can be safe and not be at risk for any further injury. That’ll be the case with Reuben as well.”
Foster and Taylor both suffered concussions in Alabama’s 49-30 win at Arkansas last Saturday. Foster sustained his injury after hitting his head on the ground. It is unclear what happened to Taylor.
Foster still wore a black, non-contact jersey Wednesday after not being spotted during the media viewing period Tuesday. He participated in all of the individual and team drills, and all signs point to him being able to play Saturday at Tennessee.
Foster leads Alabama’s defense with 37 total tackles (19 solo). The senior standout also has 2.5 tackles for loss and 3 quarterback hurries.
With Taylor out, Lester Cotton continued to work at right guard with the first-team offensive line. Cotton has started two games this season, so he’ll be ready if needed.
4. Containing Josh Dobbs
With 24 sacks, Alabama features the best pass rush in the SEC. The Crimson Tide have plenty of athletes who can get after the opposing quarterback.
But Alabama may have to switch up how it rushes the passer this week with Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs on the schedule. Dobbs is athletic enough to break the pocket and run for big gains if Alabama doesn’t properly contain him.
Look for Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to mix things up by bringing pressure on Dobbs at times while also using a spy to keep him in the pocket. Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans is perfect for the spy role because of his closing speed.
3. Creating turnovers
Tennessee turned the ball over an insane 7 times against Texas A&M. That includes 5 lost fumbles and 2 interceptions.
This plays right into Alabama’s hands. The Crimson Tide not only create a lot of turnovers, but they also turn them into defensive touchdowns.
Alabama has scored a defensive touchdown in eight straight games dating back to the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup vs. Michigan State.
If Tennessee isn’t careful, that streak may continue.
2. Is the secondary fixed?
Alabama gave up 400 passing yards to Arkansas last week. No one would mistake the Razorbacks for a passing juggernaut, so the number is a bit concerning.
Alabama’s secondary seemed to be in good position, but it didn’t properly play the ball.
The Tide certainly need to avoid giving up those types of big plays against an explosive Tennessee team.
The Volunteers have the weapons to capitalize if Alabama makes mistakes.
1. Will Alabama’s offense travel?
Aside from the early fumble last week at Arkansas, Alabama’s offense actually got off to a fast start.
The Crimson Tide scored touchdowns on their two drives following the fumble. Alabama will need that same type of production against Tennessee.
Alabama must jump on Tennessee early and keep the pressure on.
Unlike Arkansas, Tennessee is built to come from behind, as the Volunteers have shown all season.
Alabama needs its offense to be efficient and put up points when opportunities are there.