KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Butch Jones gets it.
“It’s a rivalry game and our players understand what’s at stake,” Jones said on his VolCalls coaches show on the Vol Network this week. “That’s the pageantry of college football, and that’s why you come to the University of Tennessee.”
The No. 9 Volunteers (5-1, 2-1 SEC) play host to No. 1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Neyland Stadium (TV: CBS).
The Crimson Tide have won nine straight in the rivalry and are also riding the longest active win streak in college football at 18 games.
Tuscaloosa News sports editor Tommy Deas provided some Alabama insight in this comparison of the teams’ position groups:
Alabama: True freshman Jalen Hurts has displayed great poise and resiliency in the face of adverse situations. Hurts’ mobility (149 yards rushing vs. Ole Miss) makes him a difficult matchup for defenses. His passing accuracy improves each week.
Tennessee: Josh Dobbs is coming off a career-high 398-yard passing performance, but also, four turnovers. For all of Dobbs’ poise and great leadership skills, he must improve his ball security over the second half of the season.
Alabama: Damien Harris has great burst to go with a shifty running style, and he has broken a handful of long runs already this season. Freshman Josh Jacobs was a late signee who has been a steady producer. Bo Scarbrough (6-2, 228) is a pounder and short-yardage specialist.
Tennessee: Alvin Kamara had a breakout game, and sophomore John Kelly proved effective running North-South. Jalen Hurd may be back to start the game, but he’ll need to produce to keep getting carries.
RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS
Alabama: Calvin Ridley is an explosive threat and potential first-round NFL draft pick, and ArDarius Stewart is another future NFL player. Gehrig Dieter is a solid possession receiver. Tight end O.J. Howard had more than 200 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns against Clemson and presents a mismatch.
Tennessee: Jauan Jennings and Josh Malone have had great moments, but both continue to suffer the occasion drop. In close games that can be the difference. Tyler Byrd is an up-and-coming star. Josh Smith needs to make plays. Tight ends have been subpar.
Alabama: Left tackle Cam Robinson is a returning starter and anchors the line from that position. True freshman right tackle Jonah Williams might ultimately be the best lineman. Center Bradley Bozeman has been consistent. The Tide have had more pre-snap penalties than usual this season.
Tennessee: With the status of center Dylan Wiesman and guard Jashon Robertson in question, the Vols are looking at yet another lineup shuffle. This unit has improved as the year has progressed, but the shuffling does not help.
Alabama: Playing out of a conventional 3-man front, nose guard De’Ron Payne has been a handful that’s required double teams each game. Da’Shawn Hand, a former 5-star recruit and No. 1 prospect, is starting to come on and will get reps behind Jonathan Allen at end.
Tennessee: Derek Barnett has had an All-SEC type of season, and Corey Vereen has also been effective. The question will be in the middle of the line where dismissed Danny O’Brien must be replaced. Shy Tuttle and Kahlil Mckenzie must step up.
Alabama: Tim Williams (6-4, 252) is back at the “Jack” linebacker position, where he specializes in pass rushing. He’ll line up with his hand in the dirt at times. Middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton has been playing outstanding of late. Reuben Foster is coming off a mild concussion.
Tennessee: Darrin Kirkland Jr. is back after missing four games on account of a high ankle sprain. DK is expected to play alongside Colton Jumper in the Vols’ two-backer set. Elliott Berry and Dillon Bates are the backups.
Alabama: This unit has been exploited somewhat and ranks 61st in the nation vs. pass. Minka Fitzpatrick is like a rover, able to play in coverage or come up in run support. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey has been thrown at a bit this season. The Tide is playing more zone, with Eddie Jackson playing lights-out at safety.
Tennessee: The Vols have gotten some special play from safeties Michael Abernathy and Todd Kelly Jr., and cornerback Malik Foreman has shown a propensity for great hustle. Rashaan Gaulden is a hard hitter in run support.
Alabama: Kicker Adam Griffith has a strong leg. Junior JK Scott, all 6-6 of him, led the nation in punting as a freshman. Eddie Jackson can return punts along with Trevon Diggs, and Diggs also returns kicks alongside Xavian Marks.
Tennessee: Butch Jones continues to make the units a priority. Trevor Daniel continues a great season and Aaron Medley proved clutch at Texas A&M. Evan Berry remains among the most dangerous return men in the nation.