Tennessee might have a not-so-secret weapon inside the locker room when the team heads to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama Saturday. Current Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara originally chose the Crimson Tide out of high school in 2013 before leaving the program for Hutcinson Community College after a redshirt season.
Nick Saban's team has implemented a brand new offensive identity under second-year coordinator Lane Kiffin, but Kamara still knows many of the current players on Alabama's team and is able to provide his teammates with useful nuggets of information on who some of the guys they'll line up against Saturday.
"He gives us a lot of little insight to their offense, just stuff about their players and stuff," safety Brian Randolph said. "He's very supportive, trying to help the defense out and give us any advantage we can get. Definitely not about the scheme, because the scheme is totally different, but individual players he can tell us a little bit more about."
The junior's head coach doesn't believe that extra insight will translate into extra motivation as Kamara prepares to face his old team.
"I know when he talks about his time at Alabama, he talks about the respect that he has for that football program. He still has a number of friends on that football team, but really we don't talk about it a lot," Butch Jones said. "Alvin is a very determined, very confident young man, but he's very focused and very determined, and he doesn't talk much about the past. Everything is about the present and moving forward, and that's what I like about him."
The Vols will certainly need production out of their speedy running back to help penetrate Alabama's No. 1-ranked rushing defense in the SEC. The Tide give up just 70 yards a game on the ground and have allowed just three rushing touchdowns on the season.
Kamara may not say he's taking any extra motivation into this game, but his teammates certainly see at least a slight difference in his approach leading up to Saturday's showdown on the other side of the Third Saturday in October.
"He's definitely motivated every week," Randolph said. "He brings it every week, but you kind of see it in him that he's ready to come off in this game. I'm expecting big things from him."
Josh Dobbs has made a living protecting the football in the air this season. Since throwing a game-sealing interception against Oklahoma in double overtime, Dobbs has tossed just one pick in 169 attempts. Taking care of the ball will be key against an opportunistic Crimson Tide defense that ranks fifth in the country in interceptions with 12 for an average of 1.72 per game.
"It's not really something you think about when you go out and play," Dobbs said. "You just go out and play, but it's all from habits and preperation. If you know the scheme and what the defense is trying to do and you understand your offense and where your players are, and not try to push the ball in there ... you're going to take care of the football."
Alabama hauled in an eye-popping three pick-sixes in its 41-23 win over then-No. 9 Texas A&M, and Dobbs' ability to prevent drive-killing interceptions against a fiesty defense will be key in keeping Tennessee in the game.
"They're only giving up 16.7 points per game," Butch Jones said. "The thing that is impressive is their 16 takeaways and four of those have resulted in touchdowns. They lead the conference with 12 interceptions, and they are No. 1 in our conference in pass defense efficiency ... They're a top-10 opponent and a great football team."
BYE BYE BYE
If ever there was a time to come off a bye week, facing Alabama is it. The Vols were able to rest, recover and recuperate after a physical win over Georgia Oct. 10 and are now preparing to face the No. 8 team in the country on the road. Butch Jones took the off week to pore over the minute details that have hampered his team, including ways for Tennesse to tackle better and cut down on penalties. The Vols
"(We're) just continuing to improve on our fundamentals and our details," Jones said. "Really no secret, we have to be a much better tackling football team. It's all about wining your space, winning your area. That's what spread offenses do to you is they force one-on-one matchups, not only just in the pass game, but in the tackling game. So being a much better efficient, tackling defense. More turnovers, more takeaways. It's all about impacting the quarterback, and you can impact the quarterback more than just sacks."
The third-year Vols head coach also looked at ways for his team to draw more penalties. Tennessee currently ranks No. 5 in the SEC in opponent penalties a game, with teams averaging 55.5 yards in flags per game.
"The other element or area we talk about it is generated penalties, forced penalties," Jones said. "Great defensive line man in their strain and their effort to get to the quarterback generate holding penalties. With movement, you generate chop-blocks, all those things. We've really focused on the fundamentals and the fine details."
The players took time to do the same and also have a little fun in their one weekend of pleasure. Safety Brian Randolph brought defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry, safety Todd Kelly Jr. and linebacker Kenny Bynum to his home in Georgia for a day of relaxation and competition.
"We rested a lot and went golfing. It was great," Randolph said. "We went to Top Golf. I kind of showed them how to do it. I'm the best golfer."
Who had the worst score out of the bunch?
"Definitely Kenny Bynum," Randolph said. "That dude can't golf."