Tennessee will be pining for a season-altering victory when Alabama comes to Knoxville on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2).
No, a win wouldn’t propel the Vols into the SEC title discussion. However, the momentum of a victory over the Tide could last all the way up until the beginning of next season.
In other words: Tennessee’s program really needs this win.
Here’s how it can happen.
Worley Must Be Nearly Flawless
Arguably the best performance by the Vols this season came in the team’s Sept. 27 loss at Georgia, 35-32.
In that game, quarterback Justin Worley had one of the best games of his career, throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-35 passing against a talented Bulldogs defense. He made great throw after great throw and looked calm and poised in the pocket.
That kind of effort will once again be needed.
Earlier this week, the senior’s status for this weekend’s game was up in the air. However, according to Saturday Down South, Worley looks set to go:
Tennessee will hope that remains true, because it may not even be worth attempting to run the ball on Saturday.
After being held to zero total rushing yards on 28 carries against Ole Miss, the road should only get tougher against Alabama’s No. 2-ranked run defense on Saturday. Thus far, the unit has allowed a meager 63.4 yards per game while only conceding two rushing touchdowns.
Furthermore, the one game the Tide did lose—23-17 to Ole Miss on Oct. 4—was won through the air. Quarterback Bo Wallace paced the Rebels, throwing for 251 yards and three touchdowns.
Worley, or whichever backup quarterback gets the call, will need a similar effort.
Make Life Uncomfortable for Sims
It’s no secret that Blake Sims finds life difficult on the road.
Three times Alabama has played away from home—twice on the road, once on a neutral field. All three times, the team has struggled.
In fact, Sims is pretty much a completely different passer outside of Tuscaloosa:
|Blake Sims Home vs. Away|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||10.96||7.48|
If the Vols can get pressure in the backfield, they could help Sims’ struggles continue.
Keep an eye out on defensive end Derek Barnett, who had his breakout game against Ole Miss last weekend. The freshman recorded six tackles (four for loss) and three sacks.
It’s vital for Tennessee to pounce on Sims’ vulnerability.
Win the Turnover Battle
It may sound cliche, but the Vols’ chances of success rest largely on turnovers.
This is an area the team has really struggled with. Tennessee has turned the ball over 13 times over the last five weeks.
Most recently, the team coughed it up four times in a 34-3 loss at Ole Miss last Saturday.
“Turnovers were the story of the game,” head coach Butch Jones said following the loss, per the Times Free Press’ Patrick Brown. “When you turn the football over, that gives you zero opportunity to win.”
Fortunately for the Vols, this is an area Alabama struggles with too. Prior to last weekend's blowout win over Texas A&M, the team turned it over eight times in a three-game stretch.
Conversely, the Tide struggle in creating turnovers (nine on the year) while Tennessee ranks No. 31 in the category with 14.
If the Vols can get a couple of early turnovers, this is a game that the team might be able to steal.
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