Alabama wary of Tennessee's offense

Alabama wary of Tennessee's offense

October 16th, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray (8) and the offense he leads were given strong compliments Monday by Alabama coach Nick Saban and a veteran Crimson Tide defensive back.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Nick Saban

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

TIDE, TAKE THREE

Three tidbits regarding top-ranked Alabama entering this week's game at Tennessee:

1. Nick Saban is 5-0 against the Volunteers as the Crimson Tide coach. Predecessors Mike Shula, Dennis Franchione and Mike DuBose were a combined 2-8 versus Tennessee.

2. Alabama has held three of its six opponents this season to less than 50 first-half yards, including Missouri this past Saturday.

3. Senior Jeremy Shelley is among just four kickers in the Bowl Subdivision who have yet to miss a field goal or an extra point. Shelley is 7-for-7 on field-goal attempts and 30-for-30 on PATs.

Alabama's Nick Saban is the first football coach ever to defeat Tennessee by 30 or more points in consecutive seasons, yet his dominance of the Volunteers has included very little Tyler Bray.

Bray had a broken thumb midway through last season and sat out Tennessee's 37-6 loss in Tuscaloosa. Matt Simms got the start at quarterback in last year's game and in the 41-10 loss to the Crimson Tide in 2010, when Bray came off the bench in Knoxville to play half of the second quarter and the entire fourth quarter.

Entering his inaugural "Third Saturday in October" start at Neyland Stadium, Bray heads an offense that ranks among the top 25 nationally in yards (482.3) and points (38) per game.

"Tyler Bray is doing an excellent job of throwing the ball, and they are a double threat from passing and running," Alabama senior safety Robert Lester said Monday. "We are going to trust that our defensive line will do its job. We are going to help out our defense as much as we can, and if that means covering their receivers a few seconds longer, then we are ready to do it."

Bray, who is averaging 288.3 passing yards a game and has thrown for 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions, was 5-of-14 for 39 yards and an interception as a freshman against the Tide. The two starts by Simms against Alabama produced just 175 combined passing yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Crimson Tide have made 11 interceptions through six games this season, which leads the Southeastern Conference.

"They have a very, very good quarterback who has done a fantastic job for them this year," Saban said. "We're going to be challenged in a way we've never been challenged by the quality of the offensive team that we're playing this week and their capabilities in the passing game as well as the balance they have in running the ball."

Alabama leads the nation in the four major defensive categories after finishing first in all four last season. The top-ranked Tide are allowing 55.3 rushing yards a game, 125.8 passing yards a game, 181.2 total yards a game and 7.5 points per contest.

Saban bristled when asked Monday about his defense, pointing out that some stout offenses are on the horizon, beginning this week.

"This game is more about the rivalry and less about people's records," he said. "Tennessee has a really, really good offensive team, and it's always a challenge to play on the road. This is by far the best offensive line that we've played against all year long."

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who suffered a knee bruise in Saturday's 42-10 win at Missouri but stayed in the game, was able to practice Monday afternoon.

Fanning apologizes

With a little more than two minutes remaining in last Saturday's game, 6-foot-7, 290-pound redshirt freshman defensive lineman LaMichael Fanning lifted Missouri tailback Russell Hansbrough over his head and slammed him to the turf. Fanning's actions drew a 15-yard penalty, and Hansbrough fortunately was not injured.

"This is a young player excited about getting in a game who made a very, very poor decision in his judgment on making that play," Saban said. "It's something we don't condone here, and it's not how we want our players to play.

"I think he understands what he did was not done in the right way, and we are managing internally things for him to do so he can make better choices and decisions in the future."

Saban said Fanning has written letters of apology to Hansbrough and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. Saban added that he talked Sunday with Pinkel about the incident.

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