Keys to the Game: Alabama vs. Tennessee

Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban coaches during practice at Thomas-Drew Practice Fields in Tuscaloosa, AL on Tuesday, Oct 11, 2022.

In what has now become the biggest game of the college football season so far as well as the biggest edition of the Third Saturday in October in quite some time, third ranked Alabama heads up to Knoxville to take on the sixth ranked Tennessee Volunteers.

This one has all the makings of an all-time classic. Two elite quarterbacks (assuming Bryce Young plays), an ascending young coach looking to take down Nick Saban, and a hungry Volunteers team looking to take the next step into the upper echelon of college football’s elite programs. Let’s take a look at some keys to how this game will be won on Saturday:

Alabama’s offense must show up in tough enviornment:

By all accounts, it sounds like Bryce Young will be playing in this game. Whether or not he is actually 100%, we do not know and probably will never know. But even with Young, Alabama’s offense has struggled to get it going in tough road environments more than once. If there’s one thing we know about this Tennessee team it’s that they will put up points, and if the Tide offense shows up like it did against Texas before Young basically won the game himself, they’re in some serious trouble.

Tennessee struggles tremendously to defend the pass, it’s the weakest part of their team. To compensate, Josh Heupel deploys a ton of zone coverage, something Bill O’Brien and Nick Saban have to exploit if they want to put up enough points to win this thing. The Vols defend the run decently well, so it’s gonna come down to the arm of Young and the receivers ability to create separation when it comes to the offense scoring points.

Tennessee must limit mistakes and turnovers:

Josh Heupel said today that the Volunteers don’t need to be “extraordinary” to beat Alabama, essentially saying that they need to do what they do well at a very high level. And I actually agree with him on that. This Alabama team is beatable. Clearly. But what cannot happen for the Vols is costly penalties and turnovers that give Nick Saban’s squad free passes. If the Vols play their game, score a bunch of points, and avoid turnovers, they have a really great shot to win.

Alabama cannot get shredded:

I’ll put this one pretty simply. If Tennessee can put up 45 or so points, they probably win this thing. Alabama has yet to have an elite offensive performance this season (though I believe they were on their way to one before Young got injured against Arkansas), and while Tennessee’s defense has bled quite a bit through the air, Alabama’s defense has to give the offense a chance to win the game without getting into a crazy shootout. If this game gets into the 40s, I believe Tennessee wins.

Tennessee must stop the run:

Whether it’s because teams have been able to throw the ball all over the field on them or not, Tennessee has done a solid job containing the run this season. This simply has to continue for them to have a shot. If the Tide are able to establish a ground game early and often, this one could get ugly. Tennessee has to make a likely not 100% Bryce Young beat them with his arm. Not that he isn’t capable of doing that, but the strongest part of the Vols defense must be just that. Making Young uncomfortable in the pocket would go a very long way as well.

Overall assessment:

This is going to be a heck of a game. If both teams execute at a high level, we are in for an instant classic in Knoxville. If not, both have the capability to blow the doors off the other. We’ll find out Saturday afternoon.