By Frank Gale
The Vols ended its streak of losses against ranked teams last Saturday with a win over South Carolina. That victory also got Team #117 closer to one of the goals for this season, becoming bowl eligible. Now, it is on to Tuscaloosa tomorrow for a game against "the red team" as Butch Jones has started to call them.
The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will present another huge challenge for the Big Orange. Given their recent success, no one should totally discard the Vols having any chance in this contest.
The coach on the other sideline can appreciate what Butch Jones is going through. It wasn't all that long ago Nick Saban took over in Alabama and went through a similar rebuilding process before getting the program back on top.
The outcome of this game will be largely influenced by the play up front on both sides of the ball. Alabama, with a balanced attack, is a run first team with T.J.Yelton and Kenyan Drake doing the honors this year.
Only Virginia Tech and Colorado State have kept the Tide under 100 yards rushing; however, they both still suffered 25-point loses.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron is not likely to beat the Vols with his feet; however, McCarron has completed almost 70 percent of his passes this season with only three interceptions.
He is more than capable of beating any team with his arm.
A major key to this game will be how well the Vols defensive line contains the running game while still being able to pressure the quarterback.
The Vols young but improving secondary will need the defensive line to limit McCarron’s time to throw.
Keeping the game close late has been the blueprint against the last two ranked opponents the Vols faced. With Michael Palardy having a great year, that is not a bad plan.
Conditioning contributed to late scores for the Vols in both the first and second halves last week. The Vols will be trying the same formula again, extending drives to the seventh play and longer. Alabama hasn’t had their starters on the field for the entire game since Texas A&M took them to the wire earlier in the season.
The Tennessee players are not intimated by playing No. 1-ranked Alabama. The Tide has been ranked either one or two since these players arrived at UT. The last time the Big Orange left Tuscaloosa with a victory was 2003 following a classic five-overtime game.
The Vols came close to beating another top ranked Tide team in 2009 but the potential game winning field goal was blocked, ending that upset bid.
Last Week, Vanderbilt was able to take advantage of a depleted Georgia team that has now dropped their last two games since their narrow escape in Knoxville. Just 29 days until Jim Butler’s Commodores make that long-awaited trek back to Rocky Top!
The Vols will try to reverse the trend of losing ten straight road games, nine of those involving SEC foes. Remember, in rivalry games, the best team doesn’t always come out on top. CBS has the coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. CDT tomorrow.
The Vols have steadily improved throughout the season. Tomorrow is a great opportunity for this team of over achievers to “Roll the Tide." GO VOLS!!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)