Can the Tennessee Vols get closer than 21 points to Alabama football? Only if they succeed in five important areas.
Alabama football will travel to Knoxville as a solid three-touchdown favorite. Not many Tennesse fans are expecting an upset. Most just do not want to be embarrassed. With a loss on Saturday, what began as a promising season will pivot to a Vols team with a losing record.
Tennessee Head Coach, Jeremy Pruitt has major challenges. His team will be seeing an offense light-years beyond anything they have seen this season. Convincing them they have a chance against the Tide will not be easy. Pruitt may need to rely on his player’s fear of his wrath if they play poorly.
The Alabama Crimson Tide can help out the Vols by taking the game too lightly. The Alabama football coaching staff will push the players away from such a mistake. As Nick Saban mentioned on Wednesday, the Crimson Tide players have been forewarned. Fear of wrath following a sub-standard performance will affect players in Knoxville and Tuscaloosa.
By now the long, losing streak to the Crimson Tide has probably immunized the Vols from any distraction caused by the history. The Vols will not roll over. Pruitt has made progress in changing the Tennessee football culture. His top players will welcome the challenge of measuring themselves against the Crimson Tide.
Unless the Crimson Tide self-destructs, the Vols will have to succeed in five key areas to be competitive.
Establish a rushing threat
Except for the Georgia game, Tennessee has been productive on the ground. The Vols ran for 232 yards in the win over Missouri. Ty Chandler and Eric Gray are solid running backs. One reason their output was so poor against Georgia, is Vols OC, Jim Chaney went pass-heavy. If they can run on the Tide defense, considerable pressure will be taken off the Vol QBs.
Protect the Quarterback
Pressure coming off the edge has been a major problem for the Vols offensive line. The interior of the Vols offensive line is salty. That cannot be said for the tackles. If the Crimson Tide edge rushers consistently pressure the Vols QB, it will be an unpleasant afternoon in Knoxville.
A QB that will not lose the game
Give Jarrett Guarantano credit for being tough. He has taken considerable punishment during his Vols career. Otherwise, his performance has been lacking, inconsistently mixing good plays with bad ones. His turnovers have made him a liability.
The problem for Pruitt is the limited experience of his three other QBs. Harrison Bailey is the program’s future but has only completed one pass in his college career. J.T. Strout was the initial replacement for Guarantano against Kentucky and quickly joined the interception parade. Sophomore, Brian Maurer has four college starts and is the most mobile of the four. He might be the Vols’ best chance.
Decisively win a turnover battle
Every Tennessee offensive player must play turnover-free football. Not just the quarterbacks, but the running backs and receivers as well. Not giving away anything to the Crimson Tide also means kick returners and any Vol making an interception must hold onto the football. In addition, the Vols defense must force Crimson Tide turnovers.
Pressure Mac Jones
Jones will pick the Tennessee defense apart if he has time. Jeremy Pruitt loves blitz packages. They will have to be effective for the Vols to be competitive.
Will the Vols achieve the above goals? Probably not more than one or two, and maybe not any. A three-touchdown spread may prove to be too small.
Fourteen straight wins and a streak going past 5,500 days appeals to Crimson Tide fans. Hating the Vols comes easy for many Tide fans.