Expect Tennessee fans to be fired up when Alabama pays a visit to Neyland Stadium Saturday afternoon. Expect that moment of optimism to last until CBS’ first commercial break. The Vols have absolutely no chance of scoring another upset and claiming a win against the Tide.
There’s a bit of a creepy backstory to this year’s game. Phil Fulmer dragged himself out of retirement last summer as a “special assistant to the university President and immediately began his characteristic manipulations of the power structure. Surprising no one, he seized control of the UT Athletic Department last December. Reports have him literally breathing down Pruitt’s neck. He no doubt has had this date circled since seizing control of the Alabama’s re-ascendance to the top of the College Football pantheon was an eventuality that Fulmer desperately sought to head off through his direct involvement with the Albert Means recruiting scandal in 2000.
It bears noting that Jeremy Pruitt is an Alabama grad. He played for Bama in 1995 and 1996, and learned the defensive side of the ball from legendary defensive coach Bill Oliver. He is also a disciple of Nick Saban’s 3-4 Over/Under defense, having coached under Saban off and on since 2010. He is widely regarded as one of the best defensive minds in college football and, if Fulmer will just gtf out of his way, he could reestablish Tennessee as an SEC and national powerhouse.
The Alabama offense leads the nation in almost every noteworthy category, and even at half-speed Tua Tagavailoa is too much for an already thin Tennessee defense that will come in shorthanded due to an injury and a forced suspension.
Expect Alabama to get back into the 50-point neighborhood.
Tennessee has a good quarterback itself in Jarrett Guarantano, and he has a group of receivers who could play for Bama on any given Saturday. What they lack are legitimate every down ball carriers and an offensive line for the kind of offense Jeremy Pruitt wants to run. Tennessee won’t run the ball well against Bama and a one dimensional offense spells a long afternoon against a big, deep and physical Tide defense.
Tennessee also has a decent defense, though it’s not built yet for a thoroughbred 3-4 O/U. They are too thin, undersized and still have a lot of learning to do. I expect the Vols to cede ground and stick to mostly nickel and dime zones to keep Tua from hitting deep balls. The hope is that they get a turnover or two, keep the crowd in the game and hope Alabama makes road mistakes.
So how did Tennessee go down to Auburn and spank the boogs? There is a strong sense that Pruitt quickly deciphered Auburn’s playbooks on both sides of the ball, and called the plays before Auburn even lined up. Attaboy, Jeremy.
If there’s one weakness on the Alabama side, it’s… special teams. We suck at punting, field goals and extra points, and that’s probably not gonna get better anytime soon. While it could make a difference in post-season play, it can only be an annoyance this Third Saturday in October.
This is CBS’ Game of the Week, meaning that a national audience will get to see a systematic dismemberment of a young, thin and growing Tennessee squad. Alabama could name its score here, but Master Saban won’t thoroughly embarrass his promising Padawan.
Alabama 56, Tennessee 6