Alabama Football: Tennessee to lean on the running game


When the Tennessee Volunteers come into Bryant-Denny Stadium to take on Alabama Football this weekend, they won’t have the luxury of an explosive passing offense as they did last year.

Gone are quarterback Hendon Hooker, receivers Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, and offensive coordinator Alex Golesh, who Bama already faced earlier this year in Tampa.

One aspect of the offense that Tennessee was able to retain was its physical ground game. The Vols ran for roughly 200 yards per game last season, and have upped that production to 231.3 yards per game on 5.9 yards per carry this season. They have arguably been the best Power Five team in the country in terms of running the ball.

On the other hand, quarterback Joe Milton has struggled. Tennessee ranks 88th nationally with 212.5 passing yards per game, and Milton has completed just 61 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Squirrel White (29 catches for 305 yards) and deep threat Ramel Keyton (14 catches, 230 yards, three touchdowns) have been his most consistent targets since Bru McCoy (17 grabs, 217 yards, touchdown) suffered a season-ending injury. Tight ends Jacob Warren and McCallan Castles have been a big part of the offense as well.

The secondary for Alabama Football has a significant advantage over the Tennessee receivers, especially with McCoy out. Still, the Bama defensive backs may have to key on the run, which could open up opportunities for talented pass-catchers like White and Keyton.

Alabama Football: Defending Tennessee on the ground

Last season, Tennessee’s bruising running back tandem of Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small combined for 1,609 rushing yards with 25 total touchdowns. The pair returned this season, and Wright has taken his game to another level. The senior has notched 571 yards through six games on an SEC-leading 7.1 yards per carry.

Wright has gone over 100 yards in back-to-back SEC games against South Carolina and Texas A&M. His season-high 136 yards on 7.2 yards per carry against A&M was impressive considering the Aggies boasted the top run defense in the SEC and were coming off a game in which they held Alabama to 23 yards on the ground.

Small has been effective in his own right this season, with 359 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Dylan Sampson has also been productive in a rotational role, racking up 271 yards and a team-high six rushing touchdowns. Sampson’s 6.1 yards per carry is good for third in the conference.

Even Milton has been a factor in the ground game. The nearly 250-pound quarterback is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and has scored four times. He has surprisingly posted better rushing numbers than Jalen Milroe, primarily because he has avoided sacks.

If Alabama Football is to stay undefeated in SEC play, it will have to take away the Vols’ ground game. Bama has been very good against the run all year, so this is a strength-on-strength matchup to watch. If the Tide can successfully neutralize Wright, Small, and company, it will force Joe Milton to win the game with his arm.

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From there, Alabama can unleash its vaunted collection of pass rushers and pressure the Tennessee signal-caller into an inevitable mistake.