KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football faces the ultimate challenge this week in Alabama.
The Vols (3-3, 0-3 SEC) play the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 SEC) at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is a 34-point favorite over Tennessee, and a big reason why is the Tide’s No. 1-ranked run defense.
The Vols, meanwhile, plan to start redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano in what will be his first road start. Guarantano had some success in his first career start last Saturday against South Carolina, but the Vols lost 15-9 when a last-minute drive stalled at the Gamecocks’ 2-yard line.
SEC Country beat reporters Mike Griffith and Blake Morgan discuss what Guarantano needs to do to be successful against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Three keys for Tennessee, Guarantano at Alabama this week:
1. Manage the crowd
The Crimson Tide will have a sellout home crowd of more than 100,000 on hand to watch the Alabama defense get after Guarantano, and it’s an educated crowd that knows when to make noise. Guarantano will need to communicate with his offensive linemen and receivers effectively to give Tennessee any chance at an upset.
2. Handle the pressure
Even if Guarantano can handle the spotlight, handling the pressure brought from Alabama’s front seven is a different matter. South Carolina sacked Guarantano seven times last Saturday, and there’s a good chance the Tide will bring a variety of blitzes at Tennessee’s young quarterback this week.
3. Make big plays
Tennessee has gone 10 consecutive quarters without scoring a touchdown, and Alabama’s smothering defense will look to extend that streak. The Vols’ best chance to break through will be on explosive plays, as opposed to long drives. Guarantano has a big arm, and Tennessee has a big-play receiver in Marquez Callaway. The Vols must look for an opportunity to go deep and make a big play.