Even though it’s been many years since the nasty Vols have beaten Alabama the hatred for those disgusting orange clad garbage truck driver convention attendees never fades. So before we take on the big Orange from up north a status review of the team.
2017 has been a weird year for sure. Before this week the press were talking about this weekend with dread with not a single top 25 matchup to speak off only to have a major shakeup at the top with several top teams going down including Clemson and Auburn. Clemson has an excuse when they got their QB knocked out of the game but Auburn just lost straight up to an LSU program that lost to Troy two weeks earlier. It’s safe to say reports of LSU’s demise have been exaggerated with back to back SEC wins in consecutive weeks.
At Alabama the Tide thundered over the Arkansas Razorbacks. The game was somewhat disjointed. In the second quarter Alabama’s defense turned in it’s best performance of the year absolutely crushing Arkansas and handing the ball in great field position time and time again only to see the offense completely flounder. For the second week in a row the other team stacked 8 or more in the box and just “assumed” Jalen Hurts was too poor a passer to take advantage of the wide open deep part of the field. For the second week in a row the results were mixed. Yes, the strategy resulted in QB pressure and clogged running lanes but for the second week in a row Alabama was able to get enough big plays to secure the game. Especially lethal is Alabama running back Damien Harris who’s field vision and improved speed has made him especially dangerous if you don’t keep deep safeties on the field. One cut and he could be gone for six. He likely would have had two long scores but on the second one he tripped on the referee as he passed him. Jalen Hurts needs to prove he can hit receivers deep and scare them out of running that type of defense or we will be haunted by it every week. If he does not do that Alabama is going to eventually be in trouble just as they were last year when they faced the best of the best.
Running Back Josh Jacobs is continuing to make his way back from injury. He’s been in pass formations for several weeks but has looked sluggish, They didn’t let him run out of the backfield much either. this week was the first time they gave him multiple runs from the backfield and he is starting to show that acceleration and quickness that we saw from him as a freshman. As he rounds back into shape look for him to become more involved with the offense. His unique and unpredictable running style with surprising tackle breaking power make him a nightmare to deal with.
The young receivers are getting better week by week. Most notably Henry Ruggs who once again snagged a touchdown pass. This kid is so good at finding space where there isn’t Jalen is starting to instinctively look for him in the red zone and he is not disappointing him. DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy have also shown maturity beyond their freshman status.
Jalen has not improved in his deep passing but continues to take baby steps in the intermediate throws. Alabama did not run much of the offense against Arkansas. With the jail breaking job the defense was doing against their helpless quarterback there was little to no chance of Arkansas mounting a comeback. The passing stats are actually down from last year but last year included a ton of yardage from behind the line throws and shovel passes and stuff that fall under the passing stats but aren’t really the doing of the quarterback. These fluky plays also tend to be stopped by better defenses. This year’s offense is intended to be better in the long run that just getting stats.
Defensively in the wake of the injury to DaShaun Hand, Isiah Buggs and true freshman LaBryan Ray continue to get better from week to week. Veteran Daron Payne was also extremely disruptive in the Arkansas game. Alabama continues to rotate on the defensive line and they should only get better when Hand returns.
At linebacker Alabama has not been able to replace Miller and Lewis who went down in game one. They have tried just about everyone including some reserve safeties and of the existing outside players only Anfernee Jennings has shown any spark at penetration. Due to this inside backers Rahsaan Evans and Mack Wilson have taken turns outside. Evans is by no means healthy and though he is still as good as Alabama has he’s still nowhere near 100%. I’m really hoping the week off before the LSU game will give him a little boost and between that and getting Hand back perhaps they will take another step forward. This year would have been a golden opportunity for one of Alabama’s younger linebackers to step up at outside linebacker but sadly none of them have. Probably the most disappointing of those is Ben Davis a five start player from Gordo who after redshirting has still not progressed enough to even make the travel squad. I really wish he had been ready to step up. Alabama has two other young linebackers Dylan Moses and Vandarius Cowen, both are true freshman and both were injured early on. Cowen in particular is likely redshirting do to that.
Now on to Tennessee. the Vol defense is definitely a jekyl and Hyde situation. They are 117th nationally against the rush but the 2nd nationally against the pass. I checked, they don’t have a lot of sacks so this looks to be a very fine secondary. They have faced some good Quarterbacks as well though none of them have the maddening dual threat ability that Jalen Hurts has so I’m not sure how that translates to Jalen Hurts. I’m pretty sure that even though we would all like to see Alabama bomb Tennessee their ability to defend the pass means we will likely see a lot of run pass options and look for Harris and Bo to put on a show.
Offensively they are 101st nationally in rushing and 105th nationally in passing. Basically their offense sux. Alabama may struggle offensively but as long as Damien Harris is healthy it’s hard to see this week ending in anything but a win. Their head coach knows winning this game would save his job so look for him to pull every trick in the book to get scores. Hopefully said tricks will backfire but you never know how that’s going to go.