KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s “Next Man Up” mantra will be put to the test against Alabama, with the Vols beset with injuries entering the game Saturday.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban is no less impressed with Tennessee, however, and it’s clear he’s looking forward to the 3:30 p.m. game at Neyland Stadium.
“This game is a really big rivalry game and a special one for a lot of people,” said Saban, following up on earlier comments that the Vols represented the Tide’s biggest rivalry.
“They have a really good offensive scheme in terms of being able to run the ball and the explosive plays they are able to make with the skill players they have,” he said. “I think they have gotten better and better each year on defense.”
Here are 5 key things for Tennessee entering into the game with the Crimson Tide:
Protect Josh Dobbs
Forget pass protection, just protect him, period. Dobbs is going to get hit often by Alabama, and the Tide are even more physical than Texas A&M. Dobbs has played fearless and put the team on his shoulders all year. But the play-calling needs to take Dobbs’ long-term health into consideration. Tennessee can likely afford to lose to Alabama, but it cannot afford to lose Dobbs to injury.
Hit the deep ball
The one area that Alabama’s defense has been exploited is in the secondary, as Arkansas and Ole Miss passed for more than 400 yards. Jauan Jennings and Josh Malone will need big days, and this would be a good time for Preston Williams to show he’s consistent enough to get snaps. Tyler Byrd will be given opportunities to make plays underneath, as well.
Tie up front
This needs to be the best performance by Tennessee’s offensive line and defensive front seven. It’s not realistic to think Tennessee will win at the line of scrimmage, but if the Vols can merely salvage a tie in their individuals matchups, that will give the skill players a chance to make plays.
Win special teams
It sounds cliche, but special teams is a part of the game Tennessee needs to win if it is to score the upset. Field position will be crucial for the Vols, as they are facing a very opportunistic Alabama team. The Tide has nine defensive or special teams touchdowns in its past eight games.
Clean it up
The Vols can’t afford the sort of turnovers they’ve been committing of late, nor the number of penalties (12) they had against Texas A&M. At this stage of the season, there’s no excuse for fumbles. Butch Jones has run enough ball security drills and made it a point of emphasis often enough that at this point fumbles are largely a matter of lack of focus.