KNOXVILLE — Regardless of the teams' rankings, the third Saturday in October match-up between Alabama and Tennessee is tradition.
Even now as the two teams are on polar opposite ends of the college football spectrum, the game has meaning.
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt grew up in Alabama, then after playing his first couple of seasons of college football at Middle Tennessee State, transferred to play for the Crimson Tide. Now as the Vols' head coach, he has a unique perspective of this week's game between the top-ranked Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) and the Volunteers (2-4, 1-2), scheduled to kick off at 9 pm Eastern at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"Well, if you know anything about this rivalry — which I do — anybody that's been associated with this rivalry over their lifetime, it's a pretty special event," Pruitt said Monday. "The third Saturday of October, whether it's Tennessee or Alabama, this is the rivalry, this is the game. I grew up watching it. I had the opportunity to play in it and I've had the opportunity to coach in it on both sides.
"This week gets you going."
Alabama leads the all-time series 56-38-7, but the series has gone through numerous twists and turns over the years. The Crimson Tide are currently in the midst of a 12-game series win streak, with an average margin of victory of 25.6 points. Prior to that, the Vols had won 10 of 12, including a stretch of seven straight wins. Before then, Alabama had a nine-game non-loss streak, which included a 17-all tie in 1993 in Birmingham.
The Vols had a pair of four-game win streaks that book-ended an 11-game Alabama win streak.
The importance of the rivalry hasn't been lost on Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who told reporters Monday during his press conference that "it means a lot to a lot of people in Alabama.
"It certainly means a lot to us, means a lot to me," Saban said.
Pruitt said Monday that quarterback Brian Maurer took some reps in practice Sunday night, a day after suffering a concussion during a scramble in the Vols' 20-10 win over Mississippi State. Maurer was upended after a 13-yard run and landed on his head.
After the hit, Maurer jumped up, threw up his arms to pump up the crowd and ran into the huddle.
He finished the drive, throwing an interception in the end zone, and was diagnosed and ruled out after the drive. Junior Jarrett Guarantano — who had started 18 consecutive games prior to Maurer starting the past two — came in and finished the game, throwing for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Monday, Pruitt scoffed at a question as to whether Maurer should have been taken out immediately after the play.
"I mean, I don't know how you could," Pruitt said. "He hit his head on the ground, he jumps up, runs back in the huddle, get a call, calls the next deal. Every play, there's a lot of people running into each other. They're hitting their heads. I mean, I guess we could stop the game and evaluate everybody out there, but I don't think we have time for that."
Pruitt said that with freshman inside linebacker Henry To'o To'o having to miss the first half of Saturday's game due to an ejection for targeting in the fourth quarter of the Mississippi State win, the Vols will rely on freshmen Quavaris Crouch and Aaron Beasley, redshirt freshman J.J. Peterson and sophomore Solon Page to fill the void.
Pruitt noted that Trevon Flowers suffered a "lower leg injury" and the team expects to find out more Monday afternoon. Flowers had to leave Saturday's game after an interception return that set up a late first-half field goal for the Vols. After the game, Pruitt called the injury "a broken leg," but backtracked Monday.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.