Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Alabama/Tennessee: “Rocky Top”…rocky road

As the Alabama Crimson Tide begin the most arduous portion of the 2012 season, the Tennessee Volunteers will not only look to beat arguably their biggest rival, but in the process, derail the Crimson Tide’s national title aspirations.

The Alabama/Tennessee rivalry has always been one of swings and streaks. The Crimson Tide have won five in a row over the Vols, and given the current status of both programs, that streak is expected to increase to six. However, much stranger things have happened.

Nick Saban and the Tide have aspirations of another BCS title

Alabama enters the contest as a three-touchdown favorite, and rightfully so, for a variety of reasons. Most of which simply have to do with UA’s current stature, but a good percentage has to do with UT’s dismal performance this season, especially on the defensive side of the football.

While the Vols enter the game with an overall record of 3-3, and 0-3 in the SEC, Tennessee does have a plethora of talent…especially at quarterback and wide receiver.

Bray leads UT passing attack

Tyler Bray is the “commander” of the UT offense at the quarterback position, and has had a very productive season thus far. The talented junior is 131-of-217 for 1,730 yards on the season, including 16 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

Tyler Bray

For the first time in 2012, the Alabama defense will face a potent passer who is not afraid to throw the football down the field on a routine basis. What makes Bray even more proficient is a group of very talented receivers, two of which are arguably the most prolific in the SEC.

Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson have been the backbone for the Tennessee offense in terms of moving the football and keeping opposing defenses busy. Thus far in 2012, Hunter has caught 35 passes for 497 yards and four touchdowns, while Patterson has been on the receiving end of 23 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns. The trio of Bray, Hunter, and Patterson certainly have the potential to keep the Alabama secondary occupied.

Cordarrelle Patterson catches a TD pass against NC State

In addition to Hunter and Patterson, Zach Rogers and Mychal Rivera have also been more than serviceable. Rogers has 17 receptions for 284 yards and two touchdowns, while Rivera has a total of 15 receptions for 262 yards and two touchdowns. Hunter, Patterson, Rogers, and Rivera account for 1,358 of Tennessee’s 1,794 receiving yards as a team. Given the overall talent, and statistical production, the Vols passing game has been exceptional this season.

Ground woes

In respect to the running game…Dooley we have a problem.

Rajion Neal, who has 500 yards on the season, including five touchdowns, is doubtful for the contest against Alabama due to an ankle injury. Neal suffered the injury in Tennessee’s most recent game at Mississippi State. Left to carry the load in the absence of Neal will be Marlin Lane and Devrin Young. Both Lane and Young have combined for only 301 yards in 2012, and no touchdowns.

Given the situation, expect UT to utilize wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in an effort to provide some semblance of a ground attack. Patterson has carried the ball 11 times this season, for 214 yards and two touchdowns. Most of Patterson’s “ground work” has come in the form of the toss-sweep, or some sort of reverse trickery. Patterson is a playmaker in every sense of the word. The Vols would be well-served to make the most of his talent at every possible opportunity.

Defense in search of "volunteers"

As can be assessed from the information above, Tennessee is not 3-3 because of a dreadful offense. The Vols are dismal, thanks to an atrocious defense.

Former Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri is in his first season as the defensive coordinator for UT, and his struggles have been immense. On average, the Vols allow 31 points per game, and in their three losses, UT has allowed 43 points per contest. Also in their three losses, the Vols have allowed a grand total of 1,565 yards, which comes to an average of 521 yards per game. The current UT defense is on a statistical pace to potentially become the worst defense in program history.

In respect to Saturday’s outing, the Vols will possibly be without linebacker Curt Maggitt due to a shoulder injury. Maggitt, who has 16 tackles thus far in 2012, has started five games this season. If Maggitt does play, expect him to be extremely limited.

The final verdict

While both Tyler Bray and AJ McCarron will enter the game with minor knee issues, the biggest issue for Tennessee will be stopping the Alabama offense.

The Vols have a productive passing game that could potentially give Alabama trouble…this is a fact. However, what is also factual is that UT has shown no indication, through six games, that they will be able to handle Alabama’s “mixed-bag” on offense. Thus far in 2012, from a statistical standpoint, the Vols have not been able to “handle” any form of offense.

Alabama running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon

Essentially, the only chance Tennessee has to win will rest on the throwing arm of Tyler Bray. The UT quarterback will have to play the game of his life, and hope the Tennessee defense can somehow force the Tide offense to squander several opportunities, or quite literally…squander the football.

Given that Alabama/Tennessee is a traditional and “classic” rivalry, the fear of the unexpected is always a possibility. However, most would agree that Tennessee will need General Neyland’s magic in order to have any realistic chance against the Tide.

Alabama 38
Tennessee 13

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