Alabama Football 3 Keys: Tennessee


The Tennessee Volunteers made national headlines this past week for unwelcome reasons. The players and coaches didn’t do anything wrong; their fans did.

By Matt Zemek

Tennessee put up a good fight against the Ole Miss Rebels but fell just short of victory. Quarterback Hendon Hooker got injured late in the game, forcing backup Joe Milton to play the final few plays of regulation. Milton tried to run into the end zone from roughly 20 yards out on the final play; he was stopped outside the 5-yard line and Ole Miss held on for a 31-26 win in Lane Kiffin’s return to Neyland Stadium as a head coach. Kiffin had visited Neyland as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, but that didn’t generate nearly as much intensity or scrutiny as this Ole Miss game did. Alabama defeated Lane Kiffin earlier this year. Now it will try to defeat Tennessee in the first year of coach Josh Heupel’s tenure.

1 – Running red

Alabama ran the ball in the red zone against Mississippi State. Nick Saban put his foot down and made it a point to offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien that the Tide were going to run more near the goal line. This change delivered results against Mississippi State. The Tide need to continue to lean on this approach so that when they face LSU, Arkansas and Auburn later in the season, they will be ready. Alabama also needs to emphasize its ground game with the big picture in mind: Assuming the Tide do face Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, they will need to know they can pound out a tough yard or two when needed. That will affect how Kirby Smart approaches the Tide. Sure, there are many more battles to be fought before we think about Atlanta in December, but the great teams do things in midseason which try to plant a seed for battles down the line.

2 – Defensive consistency

Alabama’s defense was bad against Florida, and then improved versus Ole Miss. It seemed the Tide had turned, but that was not true. The performance against Texas A&M was completely unacceptable. Solving Ole Miss didn’t prove that Alabama had figured things out. Anything but. Let’s see this defense string together good performances and build a stronger identity. Creating a culture of high expectations remains unachieved for this defense. Alabama can’t get into a one-step-forward, two-steps-back pattern.

3 – Neutral ball

Alabama plucked plenty of turnovers from Mississippi State, and to be sure, that’s a great thing. However, when the opponent doesn’t make many mistakes and plays very much under control as Texas A&M did, does Alabama’s defense have answers? It’s not as though Alabama should TRY to not take away the ball. The point is that Alabama needs to be able to get off the field even when the takeaways don’t flow, even when the opposing quarterback doesn’t stumble or wobble.

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