TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Heading into Alabama’s road matchup against No. 9 Tennessee, we enlisted a little help to get a feel for the Volunteers ahead of the game Saturday.
Mike Griffith is the Tennessee beat reporter for SEC Country. Kickoff at Neyland Stadium is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS. Top-ranked Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) is coming off a 49-30 win against Arkansas. Tennessee (5-1, 2-1 SEC) lost 45-38 to Texas A&M in double overtime in Week 6.
Mike Griffith, SEC Country
Question: Give us a rundown of Tennessee’s injury report. Who is out and who is filling in?
Griffith: We know cornerback Cam Sutton (fractured ankle) is out, and all indications are that linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder) will miss his third straight start. Those are two of the team’s four captains and last year’s leading tackler (Reeves-Maybin) and best corner (Sutton). Backup linebacker Quart’e Sapp is out for the season, and Maybin’s replacement, Cortez McDowell, was knocked out of last Saturday’s game against Texas A&M with an unspecified injury. The Vols dismissed starting defensive tackle Danny O’Brien on Monday. Safety Micah Abernathy was in a walking boot last week and didn’t start against the Aggies, but he was pressed into action when Evan Berry was temporarily knocked out of the game after taking a vicious hit on a kick return. Offensively, we’re uncertain of the status of starting center Dylan Wiesman and starting offensive guard Jashon Robertson, both of whom were knocked out of the game at Texas A&M with undisclosed injuries. Tailback Jalen Hurd could return to the starting lineup after not making the trip to College Station due to an injury suffered at Georgia.
Q: How are the players coming off of the tough Texas A&M loss?
Griffith: They seemed pretty resilient after the defeat, eager to get back in the film room and continue the process of the season. Tennessee players know the challenge Alabama represents, and they seem eager to embrace the opportunity. Having come from double-digits down to win four games this season — and nearly five at Texas A&M — it’s a confident group that likes playing together. As beat-up and injured as the Vols are, their spirits remain surprisingly high.
Q: What’s the feel in Knoxville? Do fans believe this is the year Tennessee snaps its 9-game losing streak vs. Alabama?
Griffith: Fans like this Tennessee team, and there’s more hope than expectation when it comes to beating Alabama. At the very least, they know this year’s team won’t quit, and few think it’s outside the realm of possibility that the Vols could score what would be a major upset. Tennessee has already snapped its 11-game losing streak to Florida and 23-game losing streak against ranked opponents on the road.
Q: Alabama has the best pass rush in the SEC. How does Tennessee plan to slow down Alabama’s rushers, and what can Josh Dobbs do to avoid getting hit a lot?
Griffith: My guess would be Tennessee will run screen passes and draws out of the shotgun, based on what we’ve seen the Vols do against similar defenses at Georgia and Texas A&M these past two games. Dobbs is a pretty elusive player, and he also breaks tackles. I’m not sure he’ll change anything, other than to be more mindful of getting the ball out quickly.
Q: What’s your feel for the game and prediction?
Griffith: My feel is that Tennessee will give a very game effort, but if Alabama shows up ready to play, it’s a game the Crimson Tide should win by two touchdowns. Alabama should win every game by two touchdowns based on the sheer talent in the program, and the way the Tide keep their roster fresh with several transfers out, large signing classes and key graduate transfers in each year. It’s as close to a pro organization as there is in college football, from the staff payroll to the efficiency with which it is run.