The Tennessee Vols picked up an important 20-10 win last time out against Mississippi State in a game that moved them to 2-4 on the season. In an ideal world this would lead to back-to-back wins, but Alabama may have something to say about that on The Third Saturday in October.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Figure out the QB situation
Starting quarterback Brian Maurer is no lock to be able to go on Saturday. Maurer was knocked out of the Mississippi State game after suffering concussion in the second quarter of the game against the Bulldogs. Maurer has not yet cleated the protocol, and with limited time left until the Alabama game his status is decidedly up in the air.
If the freshman can’t go then junior Jarrett Guarantano will be back in the lineup. Guarantano did start the season under center and he knows the offense well. The problem is that so much of
the QB to WR dynamic is based on comfort and timing, something the Vols will struggle with this weekend.
Exploit the loss of DeVonta Smith
There isn’t much that has gone wrong for Alabama on offense this season. Tua Tagovailoa has looked like he is throwing the ball around his backyard, throwing touchdown after touchdown to an assorted cast of stunningly effective pass catchers. It really hasn’t looked fair at times.
Tagovailoa will be without one of his main weapons for a half this weekend when he will have to continue to do his work without DeVonta Smith. Smith was ejected in the fourth quarter of the Texas A&M game for throwing a punch and will serve a first half suspension because of it. His 38 catches for 636 yards and nine touchdowns will be missed and it will be up to the Tennessee defensive backs to shut down the other receivers while they don’t have to worry about the skills of Smith.
Win the turnover battle
Alabama is a 35 point favorite over Tennessee. The Vols will have to win the turnover battle – and with the turnover battle by some margin – to be able to compete in this game. If they trade possession for possession with Alabama then Tennessee will not win. If the defense can pressure Tagovailoa and get him to throw the ball up for grabs – something that doesn’t happen often as he has thrown just one pick all year – then Tennessee might have the smallest chance of one of the biggest upsets in decades.