October 21, 2014

(AP) - Nick Saban delivered a challenge to Alabama's offensive linemen before the Texas A&M game.

The group was coming off a demoralizing performance against Arkansas when they couldn't open many holes for the running backs and gave up a couple of sacks, playing without injured center Ryan Kelly.

''I said, `You guys are starting to feel the pressure, being criticized and not being the Sergeant at Arms that we need you to be in terms of how you control the line of scrimmage, how you dominate the line of scrimmage,''' Saban said after the game. ''`None of the other the guys are going to make any plays unless you guys do that. And I believe in you. I trust in you.'''

The big men delivered for the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1 SEC) on both sides of the ball in a 59-0 win over then-No. 21 Texas A&M. Alabama dominated physically like so many of the best Tide teams.

Texas A&M couldn't run or stop the run, two areas where Saturday's opponent, Tennessee, has struggled.

The Tide's offensive line protected quarterback Blake Sims and powered the way for a running game that produced 298 yards, a week after Arkansas limited them to 66 yards on the ground.

''That's the most I've seen them dominate this year,'' Alabama fullback Jalston Fowler said. ''We just talked to them the whole week and told them we just need them to play for us and the team. We want those guys to be the best up front. And like coach Saban says, it all starts up front.''

The group had come under some fire, and right tackle Austin Shepherd said the Arkansas game was the line's worst performance of the season. Kelly returns to center against the Volunteers (3-4, 0-3), who have been solid on the defensive front despite replacing the whole starting line.

Saban said Shepherd will be limited for a day or two in practice with a leg injury sustained against Texas A&M.

''They're big, they're physical up front, a very typical Alabama offensive line,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ''I think they're playing to the strengths of their players. They did a lot of quick screens, a lot of dual packages where you have the run and the pass option off of it. I think they're doing a great job.''

Tennessee's run defense was gashed for 180 yards last Saturday in a 34-3 loss at No. 3 Mississippi, the second-highest total it has allowed this year. In their three losses to ranked teams - all 12th or higher - the Volunteers have yielded 615 rushing yards and 4.6 per carry, compared to 3.3 against unranked foes.

That bodes well for Alabama with T.J. Yeldon coming off his third 100-yard game of the season after finishing with 114 on just 13 carries versus the Aggies. He's rushed for 201 yards on 6.7 per carry in the Tide's wins over the Volunteers the last two seasons and had three TDs in a 45-10 rout in 2013.

The Tide's defensive front, meanwhile, kept up its strong play that has powered the nation's No. 2 run defense. Alabama brought down the quarterbacks six times with eight players credited for at least a share of sack.

''The defensive line before the game was very confident and enthused, and if we keep being enthused by everything we do, I think the sky is the limit for us,'' Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland said. ''Especially for those guys up front. Those guys are the reason we won the game, because they were getting to the quarterback and doing their job.''

That group seems to present Tennessee with a big challenge. The Volunteers' offensive line has two freshman starters and allowed 18 sacks over the past three games. Guard Marcus Jackson, offensive tackle Coleman Thomas and quarterback Justin Worley were knocked out of the Ole Miss game.

Jones said Wednesday that he does not expect Thomas to play, would decide later this week about Worley, and that Jackson ''practiced a little bit today, but not much.''

The only FBS team to give up more sacks than Tennessee's 30 is SMU (34), and 15 have come in the defeats to ranked teams.

Alabama's pass rush has been a strength with 268-pound linebacker Xzavier Dickson racking up 5 1/2 of the team's 19 sacks.

''Their offensive line, in my mind, is very capable of being effective,'' Saban said. ''And I think the thing that we need to do is focus on what we need to do to dominate the line of scrimmage and try to affect the quarterback in a way that will not allow them to make the plays with the really good skill players that they have.''

Saturday marks the return of Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to Tennessee. Kiffin guided the Vols to a 7-6 mark in 2009 before he bolted for Southern California in contentious fashion that caused rioting on the Tennessee campus.

Saban has downplayed Kiffin's return.

"The game is not about that," Saban said. "The game is about the players and regardless of what fans think or what fans do, I think our coaches and our players need to focus on what we're going to do in the game and how we're going to help our players play our best."

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