Big Challenge

Tennessee leads the Southeastern Conference in total offense in great part because the Volunteers have been so proficient in the passing game, where the Vols are also best in the league. That puts pressure on the Alabama defense, which ranks last in the league in an important statistic against the pass–sacks.

With Tennessee having allowed only five sacks in six games–also best in the SEC–and Alabama having turned in only six sacks in seven games, the chore appears to be a great one Saturday. Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge is completing 69 per cent of his passes and the Vols are averaging 291.5 yards per game through the air.

The man expected to be Bama's top pass rusher this year is Wallace Gilberry. Gilberry does not yet have a sack. He's come close in every game, he said, and he feels he's doing his job. And he also thinks the sacks will come if he continues to rush hard. He hopes they come this weekend.

Alabama, 4-2 overall and 2-2 in SEC play, will be at Tennessee (5-1 overall and 1-1 in conference play and ranked 10th in the nation) for a Saturday CBS-TV game. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT (3:30 EDT). Tennessee had an open date last week while Alabama had to play into overtime before defeating Ole Miss, 26-23.

Gilberry, who has seven quarterback pressures and one pass broken up, knows the challenge this week is a big one. "They're doing the same thing they did last year," he said. "They are big, strong, and physical up front. We've got to put our big boy pads on this week."

Even though he hasn't had a sack this year he thinks his pass rush has helped. "I've got speed and I can rush until the very end," he said.

He said he thinks the difference between this year's Tennessee team that is playing so well and last year's Tennessee team that finished with a losing record, including a 6-3 loss at the hands of Alabama, is attitude. "They have great coaches who have them playing well. They have won big games and they have confidence. And they'll be playing in front of that big crowd.

"We'll have to go up there and do our best."

Gilberry has always been an over-achiever. He was headed for Itawamba Junior College out of Baldwin County High School in Bay Minette. But he had an outstanding performance in the Alabama-Mississippi High School All-Star Game. Mike Shula was new on the job as Alabama's head coach and Bama had a scholarship to give.

Wallace Gilberry got the first scholarship Shula awarded to Alabama.

"It gave me a different glass to drink out of," Gilberry said. "A crimson one. That got me where I am. I'm not saying I wouldn't have gotten the chance out of junior college, but Coach Shula came down and gave me this opportunity."

Gilberry, a 6-4, 270-pound junior, has gotten more out of going to Alabama than just the football experience. After this semester he'll need just six hours to earn his degree in broadcast journalism. "I was just interested in football, but my Mom was interested in me getting a degree," he said. "My advisors put me on the right road. I'm glad my horizons were expanded.

"I'm around football daily and I hope one day I can put that and my degree to work as a broadcaster for ESPN or Fox."

Meanwhile, he'd like to get a second consecutive win over Tennessee.

"We feel good," he said. "We've played six straight games and we were a little beat down. We got Sunday off and that extra rest seems to have helped everyone."


BamaMag Top Stories