Alabama-Tennessee: Is Tide Headed for an Upset in Knoxville?
The Third Saturday in October (actually it is the fourth Saturday this year), two teams who despise each other will face off in front of over 100,000 fans, and the winner gets to commit an NCAA violation.
7-0 Alabama travels to Knoxville this weekend to face a slumping Tennessee program. Fulmer's Volunteers are a disappointing 3-4 and a shocking 1-3 in the SEC East. Many Volunteer faithful have gone into panic mode, and the rest see this weekend's game as a last chance for Phillip Fulmer to save the season—and maybe his job.
The Volunteers have struggled on offense, to say the least. Their main trouble has been at the quarterback position, but sophomore Nick Stephens appears to be the long-term answer. However, in the short term he is still adjusting.
Stephens has started out fairly well. He has completed about 51 percent of his passes in his three starts. Stephens has thrown three touchdowns and no interceptions and has a 2-1 record as a starter.
The Vols' rushing attack has been led by Arian Foster, who has amassed close to 400 yards on 79 carries, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. While Foster piles up the yardage, Montario Hardesty appears to be the touchdown vulture. Hardesty has five touchdowns on just over 50 carries, scoring about every 10th time he touches the ball.
Lennon Creer, who is built similarly to Hardesty, also seems to possess a nose for the end zone. With just 32 carries, Creer has found pay dirt three times this season, while keeping intact a 5.8 YPC average.
Tennessee's defense has been stout, to say the least. The Vols' defense is ranked 11th in total defense. They lead the NCAA in interceptions with 14 and rank in the top 20 with both passing and rushing defense. The only shortcoming is that through seven games the Vols' defense is yet to recover a fumble.
Tennessee's 14 interceptions are almost negated by their six lost fumbles and four thrown interceptions, giving the Vols just a .57 turnover ratio.
Despite the offensive struggles, the Vols have a strong defense and will be a threat to any opponent, especially now that they have a more consistent quarterback who has yet to throw an INT.
The Tide rolls into this game, riding on the momentum of seven straight wins. Bama has dominated the first half of their games, outscoring opponents 95-3 in the first quarter. The first half is where Alabama stops though. After halftime, Alabama has been outscored 71-55 this season, and 61-13 in their past three games.
Last weekend, the Tide lost a huge part of their defense. Nose tackle Terrence Cody a mountain of a man, went down in the third quarter with what turned out to be a sprained MCL. Cody's backup Josh Chapman might not be 360+ lbs, but he is the strongest man on the team.
Mt. Cody will be replaced by the man some are already calling the "incredible hulk," or in some cases, the "incredible bulk." Bama's defense is currently ranked fourth against the run, and DE Brandon Deadrich said Cody's injury would make the Bama "D" more determined.
The Tide's rushing offense has been nothing short of incredible. The Tide's rushing attack is ranked 19th in the nation and is led by junior tailback Glen Coffee. Coffee has tallied 760 yards and averages seven yards per carry.
Coffee isn't just a between the twenties back: He has five touchdowns to his credit. Coffee's one shortcoming is his butterfingers—four fumbles in the past three games.
Behind Coffee, the Tide has freshman phenom Mark Ingram. Ingram leads the team in touchdowns with six, one score every 13 carries. Ingram is an open field threat too—he has 419 yards with a YPC average of 5.4.
In addition to a great tandem of tailbacks, Bama boasts Julio Jones. Jones was one of the top recruits coming out of High School last year. Jones is one of the best, if not the best, receivers the Tide has seen.
If Jones continues at this blistering pace, fans will soon forget about the star receiver of the last three years, D.J. Hall. Jones has four touchdowns as a freshman, a record in Tuscaloosa.
It is no secret that the Tide has struggled to finish games as of late. Coach Saban has addressed the problem, and a Bama fan can only hope he can fix it. The way Alabama has continued to play lackadaisically in the second half, a loss appears imminent before the young Crimson Tide realize you can't just cruise to a "W" as they have been doing.
Tennessee is rapidly becoming irrelevant in the nation, the SEC, and even in their division. Fulmer has already lost four games, with Bama, South Carolina, Vandy, and Kentucky still on the schedule. The Vols may finish 5-7 unless Fulmer turns them around and quick.
Fans in Knoxville are already calling for Fulmer's head, and dropping to 3-5 won't ease tensions, but beating undefeated rival Alabama would. If Tennessee is to save their season, it has to begin here, now.
The Tide is the most vulnerable they are likely to be all season. They are missing star D-lineman Terrence Cody, tailback Glen Coffee is experiencing fumble-itis, and the young Tide can't seem to close the door on their opponents.
Tennessee may have nothing left to play for if they lose to Bama, so the Vols will have their backs up against the wall. They will go for broke and fight like they have never fought before.
This Saturday's game will tell us a lot about both teams, as both Alabama and Tennessee's determination will be tested this weekend.
There are few certainties in the world of football, but nothing is more certain than it is not enough to want to win—you must come into every game like you need to win.
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