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Tennessee Travels to Alabama for Biggest Test of the Year

Tennessee will go on the road at No. 4 Alabama in an attempt to break the 14-game losing streak in the yearly rivalry game.

Heading into today’s Tennessee at Alabama game, people need to understand that it’s still a rivalry, despite Alabama’s dominance over Tennessee for more than a decade.

“For now, this week, it’s a rivalry game to me and I hope it is to everybody in our organization,” said Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban.

Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban

Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban

Looking at Tennessee, the Alabama game begins a difficult three-game stretch, but there’s reason for optimism.

Although the Volunteers are 4-3, they’ve looked much more competent under first yearHead Football Coach Josh Heupel than expected. They’re in the midst of a gauntlet right now, perhaps the hardest four game stretch of any team in the country.

After falling to Ole Miss last week in a close game, 31-26, the Volunteers will now attempt to go on the road to beat Alabama. It doesn’t get much easier as then the Volunteers go to Lexington to play the Kentucky Wildcats before finally coming home against the No. 1 ranked Georgia Bulldogs the week after that.

Although the Volunteers could very well be 4-6 after this stretch, they should finish at 6-6 with wins over South Alabama and Vanderbilt in their last two matchups.

A 6-6 season almost any year would be a huge disappointment for Tennessee, but they are playing much better football than last year and you can already see the offensive improvements taking place under Heupel.

Coach Heupel said he believes his team will be ready to play come Saturday.

“It’s a huge opponent,” Heupel said. “They’re a really good football team and it’s a rivalry game – one that our guys and staff will be extremely excited about being ready for and going down to Tuscaloosa and competing against a really good football team.”

As for the game itself, do not discount Tennessee playing well against Alabama.

Look for the Volunteers to keep it close with the Crimson Tide in the first half. The Alabama defense has been susceptible to the run, especially coming from the quarterback. When Alabama was just able to squeak by the Gators 31-29 in week three of the college football season, the Gators controlled the entire second half and were a two-point conversion away from tying the ballgame up late in the fourth quarter.

All of that was possible thanks to the success Florida was able to have running with their quarterback Emory Jones. Jones ran 19 times in the game for 77 yards and a touchdown. 27 percent of every offensive play from Florida was a run by Jones. Jones averaged 4.1 yards per carry on those 19 attempts and it allowed the Gators to keep Alabama’s defense off balance, and kept them in third and short opportunities.

The quarterback run game is the best feature of Tennessee’s offense. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker ran the ball 23 times for 108 yards and a touchdown in the close loss to Ole Miss. 29 percent of Tennessee’s plays were run by Hooker. Hooker’s 4.7 yards a carry was a big reason Tennessee was in that game until the end.

Hendon Hooker runs against Ole Miss

Hendon Hooker runs against Ole Miss

Unfortunately for Tennessee, Hooker was unable to put any weight on his right leg at the end of the Ole Miss game. Coach Heupel described him as day-to-day.

If Hooker is unable to go, former Michigan transfer Joe Milton will have to step in. Playing without Hooker would be a big blow for the Volunteers, as he currently holds a streak of 116 consecutive passes without an interception.

But, if Hooker is able to play, and play at full strength, the Tennessee offense can have the same success against Alabama, they’ll be able to keep this game close, at least until halftime. However, if the Volunteers get in a hurry, and are forced to throw the ball down the field instead of relying on the ground game, this football game could get ugly.

Prediction

If Hooker plays, he will have some success running the football in the first half, but ultimately a second half turnover or two will allow Heisman candidate and Alabama quarterback Bryce Young to exploit a tired Tennessee defense. Young and Alabama running back Brian Robinson, Jr. will dominate in the second half and the Crimson Tide will pull away.

Alabama 41 Tennessee 24

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