Shout Bama Lama
Getting a read on Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa is rather easy and rather difficult at the same time.
Let’s start with the easy part.
Alabama rank first in the nation (FBS) in points per game allowed: 7.0. That’s it. Seven points per game.
Alabama rank first in the nation in total yards allowed per game (184).
Alabama rank first in the nation in rushing yards allowed – a total of 267 rushing yards allowed in seven games.
Alabama rank a respectable 14th in the nation in points scored per game (40). That means their average score so far in seven games is ‘Bama 40 – Opponent 7. Average.
Running back sensation Trent Richardson ranks second nationally in yards rushing (888), and fifth in the nation in rushing yards per game (127). His average per carry is a healthy 6.7 yards.
The Tide average nearly 7 yards per play and give up only an overage of 3 yards per play. They have an 88% red zone success rate (34 trips to the red zone), allowing opponents only a 67% success rate – their opponents have been in the red zone only 9 times in 7 games.
Alabama has shut out two opponents so far this season: North Texas State (41-0) and Vanderbilt (34-0). The most points scored against the Tide defense was 14 put up by Arkansas’ high-powered offense. Other than the Alabama game, the least number of points scored by the Razorbacks this season is 38 against both Troy and Auburn. They’ve scored over 50 points twice.
Tennessee has handily defeated the teams of lesser quality (Montana, Cincinnati, and Buffalo) and has been defeated fairly easily by SEC opponents (Florida, Georgia, and LSU).
The Vols have little in the way of a rushing game against SEC opponents (remember, Alabama have allowed an average of only 38 rushing yards per game).
The Vols have no passing threat.
The game is in Tuscaloosa.
Now for the hard part.
The game is in Tuscaloosa. How did Tennessee hold “Bama to only 12 points in 2009? In Tuscaloosa? The Vols defense looked gassed at the half after having been out possessed 18 minutes to 12. Well, their QB Greg McElroy had a pretty bad day. Also, even though the Tide were much more effective with Mark Ingram running out of the wildcat set than the base set, Alabama ran the wildcat only twice in the second half. It was a very strange game, down to the very unfortunate last play.
With the exception of Penn State, it can be argued that Alabama hasn’t faced a defense as good as that of the current Tennessee team. Kent State, North Texas, Arkansas, Vandy (a pretty good one), Ole Miss, and yes even Florida. The Vol defense could cause ‘Bama some significant challenges. Throw in some Tide turnovers (they’ve lost 3 fumbles and 4 INTs) and it could be more interesting.
OK, I’m really stretching things a bit here. But if you have no hope, you’re hopeless.
Do the Vols have hope for Saturday’s annual affair with their biggest rival who may be not only the best team in the land so far this season, but one of the very best teams of the last 10 years?
A wise man once said that hope is not a strategy. But without hope, you have no viable plan for victory. It is the hopeful mind that a player for an underdog team must infuse with a will to win. In situations such as this, it is optimism that allows confidence to manifest that is an absolute necessity for a David to have a shot at a Goliath.
I don’t sense that Matt Simms has that kind of confidence. If he doesn’t have it, then the rest of the offense isn’t going to have it. That’s the power a quarterback can have on his offense.
So, hope on Saturday comes down to Tennessee’s ever-improving defense and special teams. To a healthy extent, I believe in this Vols defense. Yes, they bled to death in the second half as Derek Dooley so aptly characterized last week’s beatdown. Perhaps this week is the time when they can actually make something happen in the form of multiple turnovers. The kick coverage and return games are looking promising. They will be needed in a huge way.
But, in a close, defensive struggle, Tennessee will likely need a dependable FG kicker to keep it within reach. Michael Palardy looks like he is in a physio-mental funk. He has surprisingly turned into a significant weak link. No confidence there until I’m proved wrong.
I’ve had moments once again this week where my optimistic, wild-natured right brain has gone off the deep end while remembering a few dominant performances by the Vols in this most cherished rivalry. But in the end, it’s more of the same. We’ll have our moments early, but eventually the Vols will once again get physically dominated as fatigue sets in.
The only realistic hope I have is for Tennessee to do better than ‘Bama’s average 40-7 scoreline.
Keep hope (for that) alive. Tennessee will beat the spread (barely).
Alabama 36 Tennessee 10
Dance Vols Dance!