Matchup: Alabama

This week, Tennessee takes on Alabama in Knoxville. This is our take on this Vols vs Crimson Tide matchup. Considering how poor Tennessee's offense was a year ago, it's mind-boggling to look at some of the numbers this season.

The Vols are averaging almost twice as many points as a year ago and they're converting an SEC-best 59.5 percent on third down.

Only one other SEC team is over 50 percent.

It's a rate that offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe is proud of, but one he doesn't figure to maintain, not when four upcoming opponents are holding teams to 33 percent or worse on third down.

Cutcliffe points to execution as the reason for UT's third-down efficiency.

``We've got all the right guys doing all the right things,'' Cutcliffe said. ``The protection has been better (five sacks allowed all season). We're throwing and catching the ball at a higher percentage (69.9 percent). You're going to benefit from that.

``It's a tough trend to continue, as you know, but one we'd like to. It's a really big challenge, as we look at the schedule and see some of the teams we're playing.''

Those teams include Arkansas, South Carolina, LSU and Alabama, which is holding opponents to 32.1 percent on third down.

Tennessee's offense has been brilliant in another area: Orange Zone efficiency. In 23 trips inside the 20-yard line, UT has scored 17 touchdowns – the best rate in the SEC. The Vols have scored 21 total times, counting four field goals. That also leads the league.

``It's playmakers,'' Cutcliffe said. ``When they've been put in position to make plays, they've made them.

``We‘ve made the tough catches or the big runs or good throws. That's really a tribute to the team. Those are the times when you have good years, when you're players are making plays. It's going to be critical down the stretch, to maintain that.''

While Tennessee is averaging 35.2 points per game, the Vols scored a measly field goal against Alabama last year and had just 10 offensive points – and 218 total yards -- in 2004. The lone touchdown in the past two seasons was set up by a 45-yard punt return. UT has averaged 235.5 total yards in the past two games against the Tide.

So moving the ball and converting third downs and scoring points against Alabama won't be easy. And Cutcliffe knows it.

``Alabama's very versatile,'' Cutcliffe said. ``They can really run. They've got a lot of playmakers on defense. They're not afraid to pressure you. … They're going to challenge us pretty quickly in that department.''

Here's a position-by-position breakdown of UT and Alabama.

Game #: 1123
Site: Knoxville
Date: Oct. 21
Conference: SECW
Coach Match-up:
For the Vols - Fulmer and for the Crimson Tide - Shula


Vols

Crimson Tide
OLCOMMENTSOL

Alabama is averaging 148.7 rushing yards per game (3.8 per attempt) and has allowed 15 sacks. Center Antoine Caldwell and true freshman left tackle Andre Smith are the anchors. UT is averaging 130 rushing yards per game (3.8 per carry) and has allowed an SEC-low five sacks. Left tackle Arron Sears and left guard David Ligon are the anchors.

QB'sCOMMENTSQB's

UT defensive coordinator John Chavis said John Parker Wilson is playing as well as any first-year quarterback he's gone against. Wilson has completed 59.9 percent of his 197 passes for 1,579 yards – he's on pace to break Brodie Croyle's single season school record – and 11 touchdowns against five interceptions. Wilson is also mobile. UT's Erik Ainge has hit 69 percent of his 171 passes for 1,657 yards and 14 scores against five picks. He leads the SEC in passing efficiency.

RB'sCOMMENTSRB's

Kenneth Darby needs 491 yards to break Alabama's career rushing record. After a slow start, he's averaged 138.5 yards in his last two games and he's gained 99 and 86 yards in the last two games against UT. The Vols have better depth with LaMarcus Coker, Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty, but none are as good as Darby.

WR'sCOMMENTSWR's

D.J. Hall (100.5 receiving yards per game) and Keith Brown (73.3) have 1,116 combined yards, less than 400 from the school record. Hall (20.8 yards per catch) set an Alabama record with his seventh 100-yard game. While Brown (37) and Hall (29) have combined for 66 catches, no other wideout has more than seven. UT's Robert Meachem leads the SEC in receiving yards per game (112.5) and Jayson Swain (22 for 378) is having a solid season, although an injury limited him to no catches against Georgia. Bret Smith and Lucas Taylor can fill the void if Swain can't play against Alabama.


Vols

Crimson Tide
DLCOMMENTSDL

Alabama is allowing 121.4 rushing yards per game (4.1 per carry). UT is allowing 129.8 yards (3.7 per carry). End Wallace Gilberry (five tackles, a fumble recovery v. UT last year) is Bama's best lineman. Tackle Turk McBride is UT's best lineman. Alabama has the fewest sacks in the SEC (six). UT is 10th (11).

LB'sCOMMENTSLB's

Juwan Simpson (41 tackles) is a standout. Middle linebacker Prince Hall (36 stops, 5.5 behind the line) is an emerging star. Terrence Jones is solid. UT's Marvin Mitchell is second in the SEC in tackles per game (9.3). Jerod Mayo (41 tackles) has four sacks. Ryan Karl has 37 tackles.

DB'sCOMMENTSDB's

Alabama and UT are seventh and eighth in the SEC in pass-defense efficiency. Each has two more interceptions than touchdowns allowed. Opponents are completing 58 percent against Bama, 57 percent against UT. Alabama's Simeon Castille and Lionel Mitchell have three picks each. Jonathan Hefney leads UT with three.

S. TeamsCOMMENTSS. Teams

Alabama is averaging 38.3 yards per punt and has hit 13 of 20 field-goal attempts. UT is averaging 47.2 yards per punt and made seven of eight field-goal attempts. Bama's Javier Arenas is averaging 21.5 yards per kick return. UT's Coker is averaging 23.2. Net punting and kick coverage are even, but UT has big edge with James Wilhoit and Britton Colquitt.


Vols

Crimson Tide
INTANGIBLES

Vols would like to erase the memory of fumbling twice inside the Alabama 10 and scoring just a field goal a year ago. Another revenge game for the Vols.

PREDICTION

Tennessee 30, Alabama 17.


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