published Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Alabama football coach Nick Saban impressed with improving Tennessee

TIDE, TAKE THREE

Three tidbits regarding top-ranked Alabama entering Saturday's game against visiting Tennessee:

• 1. Alabama holds a 49-38-7 series advantage over Tennessee and has won the last six meetings.

• 2. The Crimson Tide have won the past six over the Vols by an average score of 34-11.

• 3. In their past five games against Colorado State, Ole Miss, Georgia State, Kentucky and Arkansas, the Tide have outgained their opponents by 1,364 yards.

  • photo
    Alabama coach Nick Saban will be going for his seventh consecutive victory against Tennessee this Saturday, but he said Monday he has great admiration for the Vols' improvement under first-year coach Butch Jones.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Alabama football coach Nick Saban was asked repeatedly last week how his Crimson Tide could get motivated to play Arkansas.

He wasn't asked that Monday.

The Tennessee Volunteers will invade Bryant-Denny Stadium this Saturday on the heels of their first signature victory under new coach Butch Jones. The Vols are 4-3 after stunning South Carolina 23-21 this past Saturday, and this will be the first time they've taken four wins into the Alabama game since 2007.

"Right now, Tennessee is emerging as a very good football team," Saban said at his weekly news gathering. "In their last two games, they've had an opportunity to beat Georgia and beat South Carolina last week. I think Butch Jones has done an outstanding job there. When a team improves like they've improved, it's always the sign of good coaching."

Tennessee was anything but good against Alabama under previous coach Derek Dooley, who lost all three meetings against Saban's Crimson Tide by 31 points. Saban's first two Alabama teams in 2007 and '08 thumped Phillip Fulmer's Vols 41-17 and 29-9, leaving the Tide's 12-10 escape in Lane Kiffin's one year with Tennessee as the only close call.

Terrence Cody blocked Daniel Lincoln's 44-yard field-goal attempt as time expired to preserve Alabama's 2009 win.

"That was a great moment for our school," Alabama fifth-year senior quarterback AJ McCarron told reporters Monday. "It led to our first national championship in a long time."

Alabama's six straight series wins under Saban followed a 12-year stretch in which Fulmer's Volunteers won 10 times at the expense of Gene Stallings, Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula.

Legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul "Bear" Bryant beat Tennessee 11 consecutive times before losing to the Vols, 35-28, in 1982.

"The game with Tennessee is a very special rivalry for a lot of people and a lot of our folks in Alabama and especially for our team," Saban said. "It's been one of the best rivalries in college football for a long, long time."

Saban said the win over the then-No. 11 Gamecocks would give the Vols confidence and believes a victory like that provides coaches and players something to relate to when building a program. Saban got his first signature win at LSU in 2000 at the expense of No. 11 Tennessee, and he got his first one at Alabama against No. 16 Arkansas in 2007.

No stranger to rebuilding projects, Saban appreciates what Jones has accomplished to this point.

"One of the first things is establishing good intangibles in your organization, whether that's work ethic or discipline," Saban said, "and I see those things happening because of their improvement as well as the way they play. They don't have many penalties.

"I just think they've really established good intangibles with their team, and their team certainly reflects it in the way they play."

Alabama will face Tennessee without junior safety Vinnie Sunseri, who will undergo season-ending knee surgery today after getting hurt in the 52-0 thrashing of Arkansas. Landon Collins will replace Sunseri and start alongside HaHa Clinton-Dix, who regained his eligibility last Friday after being suspended for two games.

Jarrick Williams will be used in nickel packages and Geno Smith in dime packages.

"Landon has been a very good player for us in whatever role we've asked him to play," Saban said. "At least we have the opportunity to prepare the guys at the positions they're going to play this week."

Tide tidbits

Alabama has not allowed a sack since the third quarter of the Sept. 28 game against Ole Miss. ... The Crimson Tide have allowed just 100 first downs all season, 31 of them by Texas A&M. ... Saban on why he wants to play nine league games and maintain the cross-divisional rivalries: "I think that it's important to the fans that we play quality games, and I think it's important that we keep the games that the fans are really interested in." ... Alabama is allowing 3.2 points a game since returning from Texas A&M. ... The Crimson Tide practiced Monday for two hours.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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