One spot where that upper hand sticks out like a sore thumb is in the trenches when the No. 2 Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) has the ball.
The starting five up front for the Crimson Tide in their 52-7 road victory over Ole Miss — Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, William Vlachos, Anthony Steen and D.J. Fluker — carries a load of experience with a grand total of 139 games played with 111 starts.
"They've seen every look, they've seen every stunt, they've seen every pre-snap movement, they've seen safety rotations — so it's a lot," Vol defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "You don't see these guys bust. Inexperienced lines you can sometimes, whether it's a pre-snap movement or whether it's a stunt or something new or a safety rotation that changes, you can get them on that. These guys there's just very few errors or busts that you see."
Conversely, the defensive line that Tennessee started in the 38-7 home loss to LSU last week — Jacques Smith, Malik Jackson, Daniel Hood and Marlon Walls — has played in a combined 75 games with 31 starts.
|Alabama center William Vlachos (73) leads an experienced offensive line.|
"It's going to come down more to a matter of will," Tennessee defensive line coach Lance Thompson said. "You have to execute but you have to play at a high level of effort and a high level of toughness. It's going to be a smashmouth football game. You have got to exercise your will and handle the other guy.
"Guys I have worked with in the past said you have to control what guys think, don't let them control the way you think. We're a young program. That's what we're trying to instill in these guys.
"That's an established program, they've been there for a long time. So, playing against that kind of competition gives us nothing but a chance to get better. They're good. Everybody respects that they're good. We get a chance to compete against good. That's how you get better. Don't play against somebody you can just whip their butts. Play against somebody that's better than you, go compete with them and learn to do what it takes to compete at that level. That's how you get better. That's what we're doing. That's our expectation."
In that Tide victory in Oxford, Miss., their Heisman Trophy candidate running back, Trent Richardson, ran for a career-high 183 yards and four touchdowns.
The majority of the big plays the Vols have given up this season have been outside the tackles. However, Alabama is typically a between-the-tackles type offense with two-tight end sets and one-back formations. The interior of the Vol D-line will be tested.
"They've gotten a lot better in terms of their pad level, their knowledge of defense, how to play blocks, block recognition — all the things young players have to do to grow up. Football is a game of reps. You just get better the more reps you get, the more experience you get," said Thompson, referencing Hood and Maurice Couch.
Even though the Tide lost left tackle James Carpenter to the first round of the NFL Draft back in April, they still boast one of the better O-lines in the SEC.
"I always hate comparing one to the other," Wilcox said. "They're as good as anybody we've seen. They're very talented, very well coached, scheme's good."
To hear more from Wilcox about preparing for Alabama, click play on the video below.