Alabama vs. Tennessee: Keys to Crimson Tide Avoiding Massive Upset vs. Vols
The first-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide come into Saturday's contest against the Tennessee Volunteers as heavy favorites, but there is a massive upset possibility looming in this battle of SEC foes.
Though the Vols come into the game 0-3 in the conference, two of those losses came in close contests against Top 25 teams on the road. With Saturday's game taking place in Knoxville, Derek Dooley's team will get a chance for a season-defining victory on Saturday night.
For the Tide, that means they will need to stay on guard for the entire contest and execute well in order to stave off their motivated opponent.
With that in mind, here is a look at how the Tide can avoid a crushing defeat against Tennessee in Week 8.
Mitigate Justin Hunter's Effect
After setting the world on fire early in the season, Justin Hunter's rocket-like ascent has come back to earth in Tennessee's past two games.
The junior wideout has caught just five passes for 85 yards in those contests, despite facing relatively weak defenses in Georgia and Mississippi State.
By scheming to limit Hunter's effectiveness, both opponents were able to get lackluster performances from quarterback Tyler Bray. The Vols signal-caller threw four of his seven interceptions thus far against Georgia and Mississippi State, and his completion percentage hovered around the 50 percent mark in both contests.
Luckily for the Tide, they will not have to scheme specifically to stop Hunter. It seems likely that Nick Saban will put Dee Milliner on an island against the Tennessee receiver and hope that his cornerback does the job.
Based on what we've seen from Milliner in man-to-man coverage, relying on him seems like a solid bet.
Run the Ball Early and Often
It's unquestionable that the Tide will run into a raucous sea of orange at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.
Spurred by that crowd, it's likely that the Vols will come out and try to strike the first momentum-shifting play and set the tone for the whole game.
If Alabama is able to create a long, sustained drive in the first quarter by using the running game, that will go a long way toward quieting the Tennessee faithful.
Based on what we have seen from Vols lately, the Tide should not have any problems pounding the ball. Georgia's Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley combined for 294 rushing yards on just 34 carries, and Mississippi State back LaDarius Perkins followed that up with a 100-yard game of his own.
With T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy making a habit out of exposing the opposition all season, the Tide should be able to use their vaunted rushing attack to slowly drain the life out of the crowd.
Use Play-Action to Take Chances Downfield
By establishing the run, Alabama will be able to open up opportunities to do something the team has rarely done this season: take aerial shots down the field.
While unbelievably efficient and criminally underrated, quarterback A.J. McCarron has just two passes of 50-plus yards all season.
If properly set up, McCarron should change that on Saturday against Tennessee. Coming into Week 8, the Vols have the third-worst pass defense in the SEC, giving up 251 yards per game through the air.
With players like Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood ready and able to make big-time plays down the field, Saturday could turn into a coming-out party for the Tide quarterback.
Set up the run early, take momentum and strike critical blows to finish the Vols off through the air. Seems like an awful easy recipe, but it's one that requires top-notch execution.
Based on what teams have seen from Alabama this season, there is little reason to doubt Saban's team can pull it off on Saturday.
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