Game Day Preview: What you need to know about Alabama-Tennessee
Rocky Top vs. T-Town has been one of the country’s best rivalries since its inception in 1901. But it tends to be streaky.
Alabama currently owns an eight-game winning streak against Tennessee, which followed a run that saw the Volunteers win 10 of 12. Before that, the Crimson Tide had either tied or won nine straight, dating back to 1986.
In fact, the series has only seen a new winner in three straight years (ex. Alabama, Tennessee, Alabama) four times: 1905, 1931, 1947 and 2007.
Here is everything else you need to know about today’s contest:
No. 8 Alabama Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1 SEC) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (3-3, 1-2 SEC)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 24, 3:30 pm ET (CBS)
Weather: 81 degrees, cloudy, zero percent chance of rain (Weather.com)
Line: Alabama -15
By the numbers
3 – The number of interceptions Alabama returned for touchdowns against Texas A&M last Saturday. That trio of pick sixes set a school record, and helped the Crimson Tide fly by the Aggies, 41-23, in College Station. Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs has only thrown two interceptions all season.
0 – Touchdowns for Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd over the past two games. The sophomore star had seven through the first four weeks of the season, but hasn’t been able to find paydirt in 46 total touches against Arkansas (loss) and Georgia (win).
2001 – The last year Nick Saban lost to Tennessee. He’s gone 8-0 against the Vols since coming to Tuscaloosa in 2007, but dropped his only game against them while coaching LSU.
Storylines to watch
Has Alabama figured out Josh Dobbs?
The Tennessee quarterback gave Alabama’s defense fits after subbing into last year’s game. The Crimson Tide built up an early 27-0 lead, but Dobbs led the Vols back to a 10-point deficit before Kirby Smart’s defense was able to shut him down.
Nick Saban had plenty of praise for Dobbs’ dual-threat abilities this week, but ‘Bama has now had a full year to prepare for Tennessee’s star. The Tide’s front seven is so strong that Dobbs will need to win this game through the air or by escaping the pocket.
Can the Crimson Tide come out strong in front of the home crowd?
Alabama has yet to impress the folks at Bryant-Denny Stadium this year. It fell to Ole Miss, 43-37, and struggled to get going in a 27-14 win over Arkansas in front of the Tide faithful. Even the non-conference wins in Tuscaloosa were unimpressive.
Meanwhile, ‘Bama has played much better on the road. It’s three excursions all resulted in wins over Top 25 teams, including blowouts in Athens and College Station. This week, Saban questioned whether “distractions” at home were to blame for his athletes’ underwhelming performances in T-Town.
Special teams is anything but
This year has mostly been a train wreck for Saban’s special teams unit. Kicker Adam Griffith has been wildly inconsistent, punter JK Scott has not been able to match his strong 2014 performance, and mental mistakes from the blocking, coverage and return units have plagued the Tide this season.
Last week, the group was almost solely responsible for letting Texas A&M back into the game, and it’s only a matter of time until Alabama will need to count on this shaky group in crunch time.
Prediction: Alabama 20, Tennessee 17
Until the Crimson Tide prove that their lousy track record at home is a coincidence or trick of the light, we’re pretty set on seeing some close games at Bryant-Denny down the stretch.
Alabama’s offense will sputter at various times, allowing Dobbs and the Vols ‘O’ to stay close. Tennessee won’t have enough magic to relive its 1995 blowout in Birmingham, but ‘Bama fans won’t like how much this will remind them of 2009.