Game day preview: Alabama at Tennessee

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs (11) eludes Alabama's Jonathan Allen (93) as he heads downfield.

NO. 1 ALABAMA (6-0, 3-0 SEC) AT NO. 9 TENNESSEE (5-1, 2-1)

3:30 p.m. * Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn. * CBS/106.5 FM

photo Tennessee's Emmanuel Moseley (12) tackles Ohio's Papi White (4). The Ohio University Bobcats visited the University of Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in a non-conference NCAA football game on Saturday September 17, 2016.


Big plays have been the problem all season for Tennessee's depleted defense, and Alabama has the personnel to add to the Vols' total of 26 plays allowed of 20-plus yards.

Running backs Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs each average more than 8 yards per carry, and the passing-game quartet of Calvin Ridley (12.1 yards per catch), ArDarius Stewart (18.1), O.J. Howard (14.3) and Gehrig Dieter (21.9) is explosive.

With surrounding talent and a sturdy offensive line, freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts is thriving, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will be able to pick and choose which injury replacements he wants to target. Tennessee gave up 10 plays of 20 or more yards against Texas A&M.

"We had 75 out of 84 snaps (that) were really good snaps," defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said, "but the other nine snaps were crap. They stunk. And stinkin' usually to me means it's a 15- or 20-yard gain. Now it's a 35- to 40-(yard) or even longer gain. We've got to get that corrected."


If you're going to beat Alabama, your quarterback needs to have a pretty special performance.

In 2012 Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel threw for 253 yards and two scores and ran for 92 yards. At the end of the 2013 season, Trevor Knight passed for 348 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl triumph. Ole Miss rode clutch games from Bo Wallace (251 yards, three touchdowns) and Chad Kelly (341 yards, three touchdowns) to upsetting Alabama the previous two seasons.

The only exceptions were the "Kick Six" game in 2013 when Auburn ran for nearly 300 yards and Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott's 230-yard explosion in the 2014 College Football Playoff semifinal.

photo Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs (11) catches a pass for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Tennessee's Josh Dobbs had monster games against Florida (399 total yards and five touchdowns) and Texas A&M (459 total yards and two touchdowns), and he'll have to play at the same level for the Vols to beat Alabama.

"We just have to play our game and execute," Dobbs said, "and we know how good we can be."


Tennessee apparently can play only thrilling, wild games decided in the closing minutes or overtime. Alabama instead prefers to win in workmanlike fashion. All but one of the Tide's six wins are by less than 19 points, and they led by 18 points midway through the fourth quarter of it.

Alabama should have its way with Tennessee's shorthanded defense, but Tennessee should be able to move the ball on offense, even against the nation's best defensive line. If not for drops and turnovers, the Vols might have scored 50 on Florida and Texas A&M. Tennessee must play what coach Butch Jones calls a "clean" game with minimal turnovers and penalties.

Alabama again looks to be invincible, but the beat-up Vols are talented and plucky enough to pull the upset. After all, very little of this Tennessee season has made sense.