TENNESSEE (4-3, 1-2 SEC) AT NO. 1 ALABAMA (7-0, 4-0)
3:30 p.m. * Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala. * WDEF/106.5 FM
Alabama's last three wins against Tennessee all came by 31 points, and the Crimson Tide have dominated the second halves in each of those victories.
In 2010, Alabama led 13-10 at halftime before rattling off 28 unanswered points in the second half. In its last trip to Tuscaloosa, Tennessee played the second-ranked Tide to a 6-6 halftime tie before Alabama rattled off 31 straight points. Alabama outscored the Vols 21-3 in the second half of a 44-13 win in 2012, Michael Palardy's 21-yard field goal with 3:57 left the only second-half points Tennessee's scored against Alabama the past three years.
The Vols are confident in their conditioning levels after outgaining both Georgia (154-106) and South Carolina (120-15) in the fourth quarter of their past two games, but surviving Alabama's talent, depth and physicality is on a much different level.
One to watch
After Georgia and South Carolina each ran for more than 200 yards on Tennessee, the Tide's improved running game is probably looking forward to imposing its will on the Vols.
It'll just be a different tandem doing the damage.
Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, then a true freshman, combined to run for 208 yards on the Vols in last year's win, and Alabama has replaced the departed Lacy, a big, bruising back, with the shifty, speedy Kenyan Drake.
The sophomore, a former four-star prospect, ran for 99 yards against Ole Miss before a pair of 100-yard games against Kentucky and Arkansas the past two weeks. Yeldon, as he showed on a 43-yard touchdown sprint against the Vols last season, certainly has home-run ability, but Drake has the speed to hurt Tennessee's defense in space.
In the end
It's difficult to deny the improvement Tennessee has made in the past few weeks. The Vols are playing better defensively, and quarterback Justin Worley and his receivers have made some big plays in key moments in the past two games, an overtime loss to Georgia and last week's upset against South Carolina. First-year coach Butch Jones, his coaching staff and the players deserve credit for the tangible strides that have been made.
But Alabama is Alabama. Nick Saban's machine remains defensively dominant, and an offense led by A.J. McCarron, an improving offensive line and an array of skill-position speed and talent has found its groove. The Tide have an open date before hosting LSU in two weeks, and Tennessee's win last week certainly caught their attention.
Tennessee's last game against the nation's elite resulted in a 45-point loss at Oregon, and though the Ducks are very different from Alabama, the Tide simply have too much for the Vols.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Tennessee 13
KNOXVILLE - Only two Southeastern Conference football programs have more than 800 all-time wins.
Alabama and Tennessee.
What programs have the most all-time SEC titles?
The same two.
Alabama and Tennessee face off for the 96th time, with the top-ranked Crimson Tide looking for their seventh straight win against the Volunteers today in Tuscaloosa.
Since 2007, the Tide have three national championships, two conference titles, three SEC West Division crowns and 75 wins. Over that same period, Tennessee has a 42-41 record with one SEC championship game appearance, four losing seasons and three bowl games.
Jones is the fourth head coach for the Vols since Nick Saban took over at Alabama in 2007.
"To make these rivalries relevant," said Jones, in his first year at Tennessee, "we need to start winning a few of these games."
Alabama and Tennessee, long known as the "Third Saturday in October," have played every year since 1944, though in recent seasons the game hasn't been played on its traditional weekend.
The rivalry still means enough for both programs that both sides adamantly have defended it from being shoved aside amid SEC expansion and discussions of eliminating cross-divisional rivalries in favor of more rotation on the schedule.
"It goes way back," said Tennessee defensive end Jacques Smith from Ooltewah. "Alabama-Tennessee, that's what you grow up watching. That's something that I've grown up watching, and it means something really, really special. I love this game, and it means a lot as a Tennessean.
"As a senior this year, it would be mean the world to go out there and take these guys down. I know everyone in our state is anticipating it, and we've been working hard. We can't wait to get out there and see how the opportunity goes at hand."
Here's a look back at some of the rivalry's great games and meaningful moments:
Under first-year coach Lane Kiffin, Tennessee entered the game a heavy underdog to top-ranked Alabama. The Tide had a 12-3 fourth-quarter lead when Mark Ingram fumbled for the first time in 322 carries, which led to a Jonathan Crompton-to-Gerald Jones touchdown with 1:19 left. The Vols recovered the ensuing onside kick and drove into field-goal range. On the game's last play, Terrance Cody, Alabama's mammoth defensive tackle, blocked Daniel Lincoln's 44-yard try, preserving an unbeaten season for the eventual national champions.
In Saban's first season, Alabama, which would go on to finish 7-6 and lose to Louisiana-Monroe, routed Tennessee 41-17 in Tuscaloosa. It was Alabama's largest margin of victory in the series since 1986, when the Tide won 56-28.
Tennessee rallied from a 13-6 deficit in the fourth quarter for its last win in the series. Arian Foster's over-the-pile dive from a yard out with 3:28 left gave the Vols a 16-13 win.
Alabama won 6-3 in the last game in which both teams were ranked. Tennessee fullback Cory Anderson rumbled toward the game's first touchdown on a screen pass when Tide safety Roman Harper came out of nowhere to pop Anderson, his helmet landing squarely on the football, which squirted through the end zone for a touchback. Three plays later, D.J. Hall hauled in Brodie Croyle's deep pass, and Jamie Christensen kicked a 34-yard field goal with 13 seconds left.
Two touchdowns in the final five minutes of regulation preceded a five-overtime thriller. Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen, 3-1 against Alabama, threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Troy Fleming with 25 seconds left and more memorably hit C.J. Fayton to convert a fourth-and-19 in the second overtime of the Vols' eventual 51-43 win in Tuscaloosa.
Six Tennessee turnovers and two Santonio Beard touchdowns led to Alabama's 34-14 win in Knoxville, which snapped the Vols' seven-year winning streak.
No. 7 Alabama jumped out to a 13-0 lead on No. 6 Tennessee. After the Vols rallied to tie the game, Jay Graham burst loose for a 79-yard touchdown run with 2:17 left in the game, and Leonard Little sacked Freddie Kitchens on fourth down on the Tide's ensuing drive, which reached Tennessee's 11-yard line.
Peyton Manning threw hit Joey Kent for an 80-yard touchdown on the game's first play, and Graham broke a 75-yard touchdown run in Tennessee's 41-14 win in Birmingham as the Vols snapped a nine-year winless skid.
A week after routing Florida 45-3, third-ranked Tennessee lined up for a late field goal in a 6-6 tie with the Tide. Stacy Harrison blocked Greg Burke's 50-yard attempt, and the ball ricocheted back inside Tennessee's 40. Alabama, unranked at the time, ran three plays, and Phillip Doyle kicked a winning 47-yard field goal. The Tide won five one-possession games during their nine-year streak from 1986 to 1994.
Alabama quarterback Greg Hollingsworth threw for 379 yards, then the second-most in program history, and Siran Stacy scored four touchdowns as Alabama won 47-30 in a matchup of unbeaten teams.
Unranked Alabama routed eighth-ranked Tennessee 41-22 in Birmingham.
Johnnie Jones sprinted 66 yards for the winning score with three minutes left to give Tennessee a 41-34 win against No. 11 Alabama in Birmingham. A year later, Jones scored with 2:09 left, and Vols quarterback Tony Robinson converted the go-ahead two-point conversion in a 28-27 win. Tennessee won its fourth game in a row in the series with a 16-14 win in 1985.
Mike Terry's interception in the end zone with 17 seconds left sealed unranked Tennessee's 35-28 upset of second-ranked Alabama in Knoxville as the Vols snapped an 11-year losing streak to the Tide. It was Tennessee coach Johnny Majors' first win against Alabama in his sixth season in legendary Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's final season. Bryant finished 16-7-2 against Tennessee.
Bill Battle, now Alabama's athletic director, beat Alabama 24-0 in his first year as Tennessee's coach. It was the Vols' fourth straight win in the series after Doug Dickey beat the Tide in his final three years as coach. Alabama won five games, Tennessee won four and the teams tied once from 1961 to 1970. Bryant and Alabama began the 11-year streak, the longest in the rivalry, in 1971 by winning the first of three matchups in which both teams were ranked in the top 15.
Gen. Robert Neyland's Vols beat 18th-ranked Alabama 20-0 in his final season as Tennessee's coach. In his career (1926-34, 1936-40 and 1946-52), Neyland was 12-5-2 against the Tide.
Tennessee and Alabama have played every season since playing this scoreless tie.
The first meeting between the two resulted in a 6-6 tie. The coaches, for those who don't remember, were George Kelley for Tennessee and M.S. Harvey for Alabama.
Butch Jones, the 24th head coach in Tennessee's history, gets his first taste of the Vols' rivalry with Alabama today when his team visits the top-ranked two-time defending champion Crimson Tide. Here's how the past five Tennessee coaches fared in their first games against Alabama.
Result: Alabama won 41-10
The rest: Dooley was 0-3 against Alabama, all three losses by exactly 31 points.
Result: Alabama won 12-10
The rest: It was Kiffin's only shot at the Tide -- he left for Southern California after the season.
Result: A 17-17 tie that later was forfeited to Tennessee as a result of NCAA sanctions.
The rest: Fulmer finished 11-5 against Alabama and won nine of 10 meetings from 1995 to 2004.
Result: Alabama won 24-10
The rest: Majors was 4-5 against the Tide in his first nine seasons before Alabama reeled off seven in a row.
Result: Tennessee won 24-0
The rest: The last Tennessee coach to beat Alabama in his first attempt lost the next six to the Tide.