W2W4 – Alabama vs Tennessee

The W2W4 is back with a look at the fabled third, er, fourth Saturday in October.  Yes, we are featuring yet another riveting game against the construction/hunting/prisoner orange clad Vols from Knoxville.  I do love the fact that they can come straight off the work site, the side of the road and their hunting camps and never have to change their clothes.  While their clothing and song choices are mind numbingly repetitive, their football team is showing a few signs of getting out of the rut they have been in since 2009.  In ’09, you may remember that Lane Kiffin stalked the Vol sidelines and as much as Tennessee fans hate to hear it, that was their last winning season.  But Butch Jones is slowly changing things in Knoxville…

On Saturday (when the commentators aren’t talking about and showing Lane Kiffin) you’ll notice that the Vol defense plays really, really hard.  They are young, aggressive and talented.  Coach Jones has them playing with a passion that hasn’t been seen in Tennessee in quite some time.  Sure, the better talent that Jones has recruited helps but he has them playing tenaciously this season.  That’s a good thing, too, because you’ll get to see them an awful lot Saturday night because their offense is brutally bad.

When you change out all five of your offensive linemen as Tennessee had to do this season, bad things are going to happen – and they are happening nearly every single snap to their poor QB, Justin Worley.  This season Worley has played the part of the piñata while his woeful offensive line has been handing sticks to every defensive end and tackle they’ve come across, especially lately.  While you can’t spell Vols without an OL, lately this group has been in charge of the ‘teers on the face of Worley as 18 of their 30 sacks have come in just their last three games.  UT-Chattanooga sacked Worley five times and Ole Miss got to him seven times last week, the last of which knocked him out of the game.  In fact, there is some question this week as to whether or not Worley will suit up.  If I were him, I wouldn’t…and here’s why in our W2W4 this week!

Alabama on Offense

The only drama in this game will be determining whether or not the Tide’s offensive mojo finally decided to the team on the road trip this week.  In earlier trips to Fayetteville and Oxford, the Alabama offensive swag decided to stay at home and knock down a few Crazy Buckets and Alabama Slammers while the Tide offense did anything but roll on down the road.  We do think the Ole Miss defense was outstanding but we also think the Vols D should present a tougher challenge for Alabama’s O than Arkansas did.  So, it’s once again hard for us to tell what we’ll get with this offensive box of chocolates.

To the good, this season the Tennessee defense has spent a ton of time on the field and, courtesy of their offense, they’ve received worse abuse than a concussed Michigan quarterback.  In fact, the second half of the Ole Miss game saw them wilt like an old pumpkin left out to rot.  Florida, Ole Miss and Georgia had a lot of success running the ball down ole Smokey’s throat so if worse comes to worse the Tide should be able to ride the legs of Yeldon and Henry and let them tote the Great Pumpkins into the end zone.

Passing Fancy:  The Vols will come into the game with the 2nd ranked pass defense in the league, thanks in large part to their 6’1 corner, Cam Sutton.  Sutton is a playmaker and has been impressive to date, locking up Laquan Treadwell with little to no trouble last week.  Similar to Vernon Hargreaves, look for Sutton to be Amari Cooper’s shadow for much of the ball game.  However, again, similar to Hargreaves, look for Coop to win the vast majority of their one on one matchups.  Not because Sutton is bad but because Coop is just that good.

Little Deuce Coupe:  With Sutton locking Treadwell down last week, Ole Miss had to resort to their second option against the Tennessee secondary.  Look for DeAndrew White to be involved this week. Just a hunch.

Another One Bites the Dust:  Naturally, about the time Alabama’s offensive line was starting to gel they suffered yet another injury, this time to big Austin Shepherd at right tackle.  Shepherd has really been a force at right tackle for the last year or so, so this is a big loss.  Grant Hill came in when Shep went down last week (after Hill was held out of practice for two weeks due to illness) and did an admirable job.  His conditioning may not be all that and, since Dominick Jackson continues to inflict mass casualties when he’s in there, I think you’ll see the both of them at right tackle Saturday night.  They should have their hands full with Derek Barnett (6’3, 267) who recorded 3 sacks against OM last week.  FYI – Barnett is second in the SEC with 9.5 tackles for loss.

Guess Who’s Back:  But, as one man falls another man rises.  Center Ryan Kelly will be back in the starting lineup this week which can only be good news.  However, we hereby applaud the yeoman efforts of Bradley Bozeman who did a solid job while he was in there!

All About that Bass:  Last week I noted that Jalston Fowler and Brian Vogler were in the lineup together quite a bit.  We’ve speculated that OJ Howard’s reps would diminish if he continued missing blocks and holding and apparently Lane Kiffin agreed.  Look for these two (Fowler and Vogler) to be involved quite a bit once again as Alabama will seek to destroy the will of the Tennessee defense.  Their defensive line is young, beaten up and has been on the field much of this season.  Last week they packed it in against Ole Miss so look for Alabama to attempt to escort them to the bus and send them back to their dorms early.

Ready to Run:  I really liked what I saw in the running game out of Blake Sims last week.  He improvised on his touchdown run but he also ran the zone read and, gasp, even rolled left on a keeper.  I keep thinking that his role in the running game will expand but, as you saw, that shoulder is still something of a concern.  Either way, this week he really needs to show that he has the ability to get ‘er done on the road.

Other thoughts…

I think the offense really misses Kenyan Drake.  From what we heard prior to the season, Drake was going to play the Reggie Bush role in the offense by getting him out in space and I think we got a taste of that plan against Florida.  It looks like the offensive staff is still adjusting a little bit to that loss but I really liked the outside runs and screens to Yeldon and Henry that we saw last week.  Last year against the Vols, the outside runs were gold so look for that to continue this week.  Also, this season Georgia rushed for 289 yards, UT gave up 180 rushing yards to Ole Miss last week, and even Florida went over 150 yards, as well.  We likey the ground and pound game in this one.

Last thought – think Kiffin will pull out a trick play this week?  We think yes…

 

Alabama on Defense

Frankly put, the Vols are pretty vile on offense.  They are last in rushing, 12th in total yards and they are 7th in passing.  The reason for their ineptitude is having to depend on a young, inexperienced offensive line – most of whom are playing injured.  This week should feature their fourth different starting combination along the line so this young line hasn’t even had an opportunity to gel.  As a result, they’ve given up 30 sacks which is ranked, you guessed it, last in the SEC.

Thin Orange Line:  According to the Vols’ Rivals beat writer (Wes Rucker, who is a fabulous follow on twitter), Tennessee is basically playing five guards and centers along the line because they don’t have a big man who has the length and athleticism required to play tackle.  Last week, former walk-on Jacob Gilliam had to fill in at right tackle and he’s even playing on a torn ACL…and he looked like it – Gilliam gave up a couple of bad blow by sacks, including a strip sack.  True freshman Coleman Thomas tried valiantly to suffer thru a high ankle sprain last week before he was finally forced to leave the contest.  So, as you can see, they’ve got issues.

Cry Me a River:  Speaking of issues, the poor guy standing behind that makeshift line has had a really, really rough go of it.  QB Justin Worley was knocked out of the Georgia game with a left arm injury and then was knocked out of the Ole Miss game with a right arm injury.  Basically, Worley is the Black Knight in “The Holy Grail” where all that is left for him to do is bleed on us or bite our kneecaps off.  Credit Worley for coming back into the Georgia game and nearly leading a comeback but by this point he’s been battered, smothered, covered and chunked so much that he looked shell-shocked against the Ole Miss pass rush.  Can’t say I blame him either.

Trumpets:  The Pride of the Southland band will have a chance pick up their trumpets and blow “Rocky Top” a few times if their offensive line can give Worley some time.  True freshman Jalen Hurd is a long, tall (6’3, 227) running back who is pretty good out in space.  They like to check it down and swing it to this big Hurd.  Down the field, the Vols do have some mismatch opportunities with tall receivers like Marquez North (6’4), Jason Croom (6’5) and Josh Malone (6’3) so if Worley has some time look for him to air it out to these big uns.

Final Thoughts

The UT receivers do not average many yards per catch because they simply do not have time to run any deep routes.  They could definitely do some damage down the field but after giving up 30 sacks both the offensive coordinator and Justin Worley understand that they need to get the ball out in a hurry.  Their line has also progressively gotten worse at establishing the running game over the last few weeks, hitting a season low of ZERO yards rushing against Ole Miss last week.  Seriously, their offensive line is bad.

On the flip side, Alabama recorded a Saban high six sacks against A&M last week and it appears the defensive staff is letting these greyhounds play “sic em”.  The edge rushers should have a field day Saturday night.

Conclusion

The 2014 Vols feature a pretty solid defense that’s unfortunately (for them) paired with a terribly inept offensive attack.  The Tennessee defense has dammed the tide throughout much of the year but, as they did against Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia and Ole Miss, sooner or later they should falter under pressure.  And, if Worley can’t go this week, Nathan Peterman will be called into service and, well, let’s just say there’s a reason Worley is the starter.  This could get ugly.  Our bet is that this game plays out in a similar fashion to the Ole Miss game from last week – Tennessee will keep it interesting for a couple of quarters but sooner or later all of their issues will catch up to them.  The vibe of the Bama team was infectious last week and the doctor says it’s contagious and it can be spread during a high Tide.  The Tide should be high this week and we don’t see Tennessee being able to hold on….

Final Score:  Alabama 30           Tennessee 6

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