Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

For the second year in a row, Tennessee is being counted out before its game against Alabama. 

Last season, the Volunteers entered their showdown with the Tide a nine-point underdog, the same spread as Saturday’s game.

Like last year, the Volunteers have the talent to prove oddsmakers wrong. However, instead of getting into a shootout like the 52-49 thriller in Knoxville, Tennessee’s best chance of beating Bama in Tuscaloosa for the first time since 2003 is to rely on its stout defense.

Through six games, Tennessee is allowing 303 yards and 17 points per game, a remarkable improvement from last year when it allowed 398.8 yards and 23.5 points. 

Alabama’s offense is the weakest it’s been in years. Quarterback Jalen Milroe was trending in the right direction after being benched against South Florida but took a step back last week in the second half of last weekend’s 24-21 win over Arkansas. He was 7-of-10 for 215 yards and three total touchdowns during the first two quarters but was 3-of-11 for 23 yards in the second half. 

Drops by wide receivers and poor offensive line play contributed to his struggles, and it’s a significant concern that Alabama’s offense can have its switch turned from on to off in the blink of an eye. 

Per Brian Fremeau’s BCFToys, the Vols are among the best at holding opponents to zero or negative yards on offensive drives, which he refers to as “busted drives,” ranking second in the country in that metric. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide offense ranks 114th in busted drives. 

Alabama must be better at gaining first downs, even if drives don’t end in points. Doing so will help flip field position, which could be a huge factor in Saturday’s game.

Despite the Vols being among the best at scoring on possessions that begin inside their 20-yard line (they average three points per non-garbage time drive, eighth in the country), the Tide allow a microscopic 0.06 points per long field position drive.

Defending a short field has been a different story, with Alabama allowing an average of 4.29 points per drive, 98th in the country.

Tennessee could get in those situations if its defense takes over the game. The Vols have the talent.

Linemen Tyler Baron, James Pearce Jr. and linebacker Aaron Beasley have 23 tackles for loss and 13 sacks combined in six games. The team has depth, too, with 18 players in total credited with a tackle for loss and 12 credited with a sack this season.

“Hell yeah,” Nick Saban said this week when discussing whether sacks were a concern. The Tide have allowed an SEC-worst 31 sacks, including five in its win over Arkansas.

Alabama’s defense has carried the team and must do so again in Week 8 to avoid a second loss this early into the season. The Tide force turnovers at a higher rate and commit them at a lower rate than the Vols. Any advantage Tennessee has up front would be negated if Bama causes quarterback Joe Milton to make mistakes.

Milton hasn’t been as sharp as expected in his sixth year of college eligibility. In three conference games, he’s 52-of-88 (59.1 percent) for 626 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. Tennessee is 2-1 and has scored 77 points, one fewer than it did in its first two SEC games last year.

The Vols are using a different script to win games this season. While Saturday’s game will likely look different than last year’s classic, the result could be the same.

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The post How Tennessee could follow last year’s upset over Bama by using different approach appeared first on WorldNewsEra.

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