Alabama, 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference and ranked fourth in the nation, goes to Tennessee (3-4, 0-3) Saturday for what has always been the biggest football game in the South. Kickoff at Neyland Stadium will be at 7:30 p.m. EDT (6:30 central time) with television coverage by ESPN2.
The Crimson Tide’s win over Texas A&M was certainly remarkable for the 59 points scored by Bama, the first offense scoring on every possession. But most amazing had to be the defense having the first shutout ever suffered by A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “I think that our defensive players certainly played well and executed the game plan well. I think the biggest difference in the game in terms of previous games is we were able to affect the quarterback with our front guys rushing. I think that had a big effect. We did a pretty good job of covering people in the back end.”
The defense got a lift from the offense, too.
Saban said, “Our offense did a really good job of keeping the ball, which limited their opportunities. It's kind of a combination of all things, but it's really more of a team thing than some people would probably realize.”
Last week Alabama limited Texas A&M to only eight first downs and only 172 yards of total offense while getting the shutout. It looked as though the defense might have been simplified for the game, but Saban debunked that theory.
“We haven't simplified anything,” he said. “I don't think it was that complicated. I just think that we made more mental errors because of lack of experience (in earlier games). Other than the first game and giving up a few big plays in the Ole Miss game, our defense has played pretty consistently well all year.
“I think some of the errors that we made in the first game were first-game jitters. And not having Trey DePriest out there, who is the most experienced guy, to sort of control the front seven. We have made improvement, which is what you want your team to do as a coach, and we'll continue to do it.
“We're still running the same system we always ran.”
He did agree that the front seven has a different look than in years past.
“I think we have more depth on the front seven, and I think we have greater diversity in players,” Saban said. “There was a time when we had lots of big guys and it was important to have big guys play physical in the running game.
“The league changed, and we didn't have enough athletic rushers. And now we have kind of a combination of both those guys. That's helpful with the varying kind of offenses that we have to play against.”
Saban puts much emphasis on this week’s game, even though it may look like a mismatch on paper.
“It's obviously a really important game for us,” Saban said. “The Tennessee-Alabama game is a great rivalry game that has tremendous tradition. You always like to play well. It means a lot to a lot of people here.
“I think the most important thing for our team is choose your energy and be positive, the effort, the toughness, the discipline to execute, attention to detail.
“Those kinds of things, when we've done those things well we've been pretty effective. And when we haven't, we haven't done very well.
“Tennessee is a much, much, much improved team in my opinion and very capable of beating anybody they play. I think we're going to have to play our best football to have a chance to be successful.”
Asked if Alabama gets a boost in confidence from it’s play against Texas A&M, Saban said, “You hope it is. But I think you gain confidence in how you prepare for every game. Things kind of happen before they happen, based on how you use your energy, how you prepare, what kind of positive enthusiasm that you have about what you're doing. I think that's what really gives you the confidence to play well in the next game, which I think is the most important thing for us.”
Saban is not thinking about just Alabama’s defense Saturday. He said the Vols are “very, very aggressive. They really play well in the front seven. They've got two really good linebackers who are very active. Their front guys play physical on the line of scrimmage, kind of an attacking front. Their secondary has played much, much better and very, very good all year long for them. This is a really good defensive team. Very attacking, very aggressive. They create some problems and negative plays for you. If you get behind in down and distance on them, that sort of plays to their hands.
“They do a really, really good job on third down, one of the best third-down teams in the country.”