It’s hard to argue that Alabama is Tennessee’s most important rival. After all, the Vols can still get to the SEC Championship Game with annual losses to ‘Bama – as long as they take care of their SEC East business.
Beating Georgia and Florida are more important than beating Alabama, but no matchup for the Vols has more tradition than facing the Crimson Tide. A series chock full of streaks has been more one sided than ever before since the Vols first played the Crimson Tide in 1901.
Over the past eight seasons, Alabama has won every game. The combined score makes it even worse, 283-95. The Crimson Tide have topped the Vols by an average score of 35-12 since 2007. Tennessee rolls into Bryant-Denny Stadium as a 16-point underdog. However, the Vols do have some momentum after a 21-point comeback win over Georgia on Oct. 10 and a bye week to rest and heal up.
Here’s what else you need to know about the showcase game on the SEC slate.
Tennessee (3-3, 1-2 SEC) and No. 8 Alabama (6-1, 3-1 SEC)
Kickoff: Sat. Oct. 24, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Weather: 84 degrees, overcast (Weather.com)
By the numbers
5 – It took five overtimes and five touchdown passes by former Vols’ quarterback Casey Clausen to top Alabama in 2003. The Vols won 51-43. That’s the last time the Vols won in Tuscaloosa.
13 – That’s the number of times the Crimson Tide offense has turned the ball over, tied for 95th worst in the nation. The Vols are tied for seventh with five turnovers.
35-12 – If those numbers look familiar, they should. That’s the average score during Alabama’s current winning streak over Tennessee (see above). It’s also the average score throughout ‘Bama’s four-game winning streak since losing to Ole Miss 43-37 on Sept. 19. Alabama has outscored Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia, Arkansas and Texas A&M by a combined score of 140-35.
2006 – That’s the last year that the Vols beat a top-10 team. It was Oct. 7, 2006, when the Vols beat No. 10 Georgia in Athens, 51-33. That was also Tennessee’s last road win against a ranked team. The Vols have lost 22 consecutive road games against ranked teams since then.
Storylines to watch
Will the Vols load up to stop Derrick Henry?
That’s what the Vols did to beat Georgia. It worked…barely. The Bulldogs missed on just enough downfield passes for the Vols to secure the win. Tennessee’s defensive backs were left on an island because the Vols had to respect UGA’s running game. With Derrick Henry hitting his stride, Tennessee may have to do the same this week. Can Tennessee’s secondary hold up?
Will the Vols offense go inside or out and who plays?
The Vols adjusted to Georgia’s outside pressure by running the ball inside the tackles. If that’s the gameplan this week, the Vols will have to rely on a banged up offensive line against a stout Alabama front. Before and/or during the game, Tennessee’s coaches will have to decide whether to play their hobbled veterans or young, inexperienced players in Bryant-Denny Stadium. That’s not an easy place to get your first road experience.
Where will a big play come from?
The Vols are overmatched against Alabama. Bookmakers have deemed Tennessee a 16-point underdog. The Vols will need to come up with some easy points somewhere. Tennessee has scored on special teams this season. That would help. However, consistently strong field position would also set up the Vols. Perhaps this will be the time Tennessee’s receivers have a major impact. Is it time for the defense to turn in a score or two? The Vols will need a game changer to upset Alabama.
Will Tennessee’s coaches be aggressive?
There’s no reason the Vols shouldn’t play as if they have nothing to lose. No one expects them to win. They won’t likely win the SEC East whether they win or lose. They will probably make a bowl regardless. There’s nothing significant to play for Saturday other than beating a hated rival and ending an embarrassing losing streak. That should be more than enough for Tennessee’s coaches to continually attack the Tide and not play too conservatively.
Prediction: Alabama 30, Tennessee 24
It’s tempting to pick 35-12 given the history of this series and the run that Alabama has been on since losing to Ole Miss. However, Tennessee seemed to find its identity in the second quarter of that Georgia comeback. The Vols should be in the game late but Bama fans will never be too worried.