The Tennessee Vols (4-3) have to pick themselves up from a heartbreaking and controversial loss to Ole Miss last week as they travel to Tuscaloosa to face the No. 4 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (6-1). Here are the three keys to a Volunteers win.
By Steve Wright
1 -Quarterback play
This is a real worry going up against a Nick Saban defense that is loaded with players headed to play on Sundays after their college career is over. Hendon Hooker – the player that should have been the undisputed No. 1 option at quarterback from the beginning – left the Ole Miss game with a leg injury. Head coach Josh Heupel has Hooker listed as day-to-day, but there has to be a worry he doesn’t start on Saturday. If he doesn’t play then Joe Milton will take the keys to the offense. Milton is an enigma. He has all the talent and the tools, but he isn’t accurate enough and his inconsistency is maddening. The flip side is that Milton on a good day – and he has had them – could cause Alabama fits.
2 – Stay versatile
The Tennessee offense is working because opponents don’t know what is coming next. Against Alabama, that strategy is a must. Tennessee has gone for over 200 yards both passing and rushing in four of its last five, while there is that monster rushing day with almost 460 yards on the ground against Mizzou in that stretch too. The offense will have to play fast, but will have to be controlled. That was the blueprint that Texas A&M put out there and when the Tide gives up over 300 yards it is in trouble. A&M did it and won, Florida did it and almost won. Tennessee has the offense to keep this interesting if the quarterback play is there.
3 – Slow Alabama down
You aren’t going to stop the Alabama offense. Quarterback Bryce Young is playing at a Heisman level, their wide receivers have speed and size for days, and running back Brian Robinson is the best back in the country no one gives any credit to. This is an offense that has averaged over 500 yards – and almost 550 – over its last four games. Tennessee needs to work on forcing field goals instead of touchdowns, not getting killed by the explosive play, and getting a turnover (or three) in this one. Then they might have a chance to keep up.