Tennessee vs. Alabama Football: 5 Keys for Volunteers To Shock the Crimson Tide
Recently the Third Saturday in October has been lopsided, Tennessee hasn't beaten Alabama since 2006 and not at Alabama since 2003. However, here are five things that have to happen for the Vols to have a shot at an upset.
This is one of the fiercest rivalries in the SEC and all of college football. The 29-point underdog Volunteers will believe they can win all week and prepare that way. Last time Tennessee went to Bryant-Denny Stadium they were a blocked field goal away from upsetting an Alabama team that went on to an undefeated and national championship season.
In college football anything is possible.
Survive the First Five Minutes
This is the first time in recent memory that Alabama will be hosting Tennessee at night. The atmosphere will without a doubt be electric. Alabama will also come out fired up looking to make a statement before their next game against No. 1 LSU.
Tennessee has to match the Crimson Tide's intensity right off the bat. Especially if they kick off, they could find themselves quickly getting gashed for a big play by Trent Richardson or Marquis Maze; this young team could fold on the road and the rout would be on.
The Vols have to survive the initial emotional wave of energy in Bryant-Denny, let the game settle down and come to them or else they will be hearing "Rammer Jammer" for the fourth time in a row.
The Tennessee defense has a shockingly low amount of takeaways this season. In fact, since their first game against Montana, Tennessee has only caused two turnovers: two fumbles and no interceptions.
The no-interceptions part is the most troubling; the secondary was expected to be the strength of the Vols defense this season.
Following Derek Dooley's Monday press conference, it's safe to guess that there will be some changes in the secondary. Freshman Brian Randolph might be starting at safety this Saturday with Prentiss Waggner, the Vols' best cover guy, moving back to corner. Last season on his way to being named second team All-SEC, Waggner had five interceptions; this year he has zero so far.
Last week against LSU, the Tennessee defense allowed the LSU run game to dominate time of possession in the second half. It won't be any easier against Alabama; Waggner and Company are going to have to get their hands on the ball to give the Tennessee offense more chances against Alabama and keep 'Bama from scoring.
play no. 4
Freshman Devrin Young has given the UT special teams a spark ever since he returned from a collarbone injury against Buffalo. His 60-yard kickoff return last week against LSU was one of the longest kick returns the Vols have had in a long time. He has also been dynamic on punt returns.
The Knoxville native will have to come up big against Alabama. If Young can give the UT offense a short field throughout the game or even score one himself it would be huge for momentum and the confidence of the young Tennessee team.
I don't expect Tennessee to able to mount long drives against Alabama; if Young can spark the offense throughout the game, Matt Simms and Company could take advantage.
Protect the Football
Last week against LSU, Matt Simms, in his first start of the season, threw two demoralizing interceptions in the second quarter. The first set up LSU's initial score of the game.
For Tennessee to have a chance against Alabama that can't happen again. The offensive line has been strong in pass protection all season and didn't give up a sack against the vaunted Tiger defense.
The O-line will have to continue that play against Alabama in order to give Matt Simms time to find his second and third reads. Alabama will probably follow the defensive strategy that LSU and Georgia had which is try to take Da'Rick Rogers out of the ballgame with double-coverage.
Simms will have to find tight end Mychal Rivera more than he did against LSU. After recording five catches against Florida and Georgia he didn't catch a single ball against LSU. Simms will have to be patient and not try to force things to Rogers like he did during both his interceptions last Saturday. Running back Marlin Lane has also emerged as a pass-catching target out of the backfield.
In order for Tennessee to have success on offense, Simms will have to do a much better job finding those two.
Get the Ball to Da'Rick Rogers
On the last slide I said Alabama was going to try to take Da'Rick Rogers out of the game. They have good reason to; he is by far Tennessee's most explosive weapon on offense.
Tennessee can't just let him sit at flanker or split end and allow him to be double-covered all game.
Try putting him in motion to confuse the Alabama defense. Or line him up in the slot and let him run away from Alabama's oversized linebackers. Last year Tennessee often used Rogers on end-arounds and reverses, although Coach Dooley may be straying away from that this year to avoid risking a injury. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will have to find ways to get the ball in the hands of Rogers.
As he demonstrated against LSU when he dragged Tyran Mathieu across the field, he is a great playmaker in space. Tennessee has to find ways to use him.