Devil's Advocate

Welcome to Devil's Advocate — Inside Tennessee's version of point/counterpoint — where each week analysts Randy Moore and Jeffery Stewart take opposite sides of the field to make their case for our readers' regular amusement and occasional edification.


By: Randy Moore

It's easy to understand why Tennessee is a 13-point favorite in Saturday's game with Alabama.

• Tennessee is ranked seventh nationally, while Alabama is unranked.

• The high-scoring Vols are averaging 35.2 points per game and have the home-field advantage.

• The Big Orange is coming off an impressive 51-33 blowout of Mark Richt's Georgia Bulldogs.

On paper, Bama doesn't project to give the Vols much of a test. Of course, that's what UT fans thought under virtually identical circumstances in 1990. Remember?

• Tennessee was ranked third nationally, while Alabama was unranked

• The high-scoring Vols were averaging 42.4 points per game and had the home-field advantage.

• The Big Orange was coming off an impressive 45-3 blowout of Steve Spurrier's Florida Gators.

All of the indicators pointed to UT but the indicators proved meaningless. Alabama prevailed 9-6, handing Tennessee one of the most gut-wrenching defeats in program history.

I know what you're thinking: Phillip Fulmer wasn't Tennessee's head coach when the Vol offense went in the tank vs. Bama in 1990. You're right ... he was the offensive coordinator. Of course, he WAS the head coach last year, when Tennessee scored all of 3 points vs. the Tide.

The '90 season wasn't the only time an underdog Bama squad upset a high-ranking Tennessee team in recent years. The 1987 Vols were ranked No. 8 when they fell 41-22 to an unranked Bama team. The '89 Vols were ranked No. 6 when they suffered a 47-30 spanking at the hands of the Tide. And the 2002 Vols were ranked No. 16 when they suffered a humbling 34-14 loss to Alabama.

It's true that Tennessee should be rested for Saturday's game, since the Vols are coming off an open date. Of course, the Vols were coming off open dates when they lost to the Tide in 2002 (34-14) and in 2005 (6-3).

Here's some more history: Remember how much trouble Tennessee has had in recent years with mobile quarterbacks such as Florida's Rex Grossman, Auburn's Jason Campbell, Georgia's D.J. Shockley, Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler, Air Force's Shaun Carney and Florida's Tim Tebow? Bama's current QB, John Parker Wilson, is no Shockley but he's probably as nifty as the other five.

In addition, Wilson has an excellent running back to complement him. Ken Darby snapped out of a season-long slump by rushing for 162 yards last weekend against Ole Miss.

Is Alabama good enough to beat Tennessee in 2006? I doubt it. Then again, I also doubted it in 1987, 1989, 1990 and 2002.


BY: Jeffery Stewart

As disappointing and damaging as Tennessee's loses to Florida and Georgia were in 2005, the most critical loss was the 6-3 setback to Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

That's when it became obvious the offense could not be resurrected in the middle of a brutal schedule and the best efforts of the defense wouldn't be enough to assure victory against any opponent.

The next week that later revelation was confirmed in a 16-15 defeat to South Carolina at Knoxville. Subsequent defeats to Notre Dame and Vanderbilt were as much about the defense being discouraged as the offense being inept.

What a difference a year and some coaching changes make. Under the direction of David Cutcliffe, UT's offense is most decidedly ept, leading the SEC in yards per game (421) and averaging 35 points per contest. Compare that to 2005 when the Vols never scored more than 27 points regulation play of 11 games.

Motivation is rarely a problem with either team in this annual SEC showdown which celebrates the best of southern football. However this is a match-up that favors the Vols. First Tennessee has the home field advantage. The Vols are having a better season than Bama and have superior personnel. UT has revenge as a motive and have had two weeks to prepare for this critical contest.

Conversely, the Crimson Tide is coming off an overtime victory over a below average Ole Miss team and has struggled to beat Vanderbilt and Hawaii at home, while losing hard fought games against Arkansas and Florida on the road. Bama is middle of the conference pack in rushing, total offense and total defense. In other words, it appears to be a team that is just good enough to keep things close, but lacks a knockout punch.

Inexperience at quarterback, a young offensive line (four sophomores) and a sub par kicking game are other problems plaguing Alabama, which has traditionally depended on a formula of a physical defense, a power running game, an edge in turnovers and sound special teams to win. Bama under Mike Shula has followed that familiar formula, but just isn't nearly as good at it — especially this season Still a missed extra point cost the Tide a win over Arkansas. And turnovers were fatal in the Florida setback.

Other than that two game SEC road swing, Alabama has won home games against the likes of Hawaii, Vanderbilt, Louisiana-Monroe, Duke and Ole Miss. Only the win over Louisiana-Monroe was easy. None of the five wins were particularly impressive and the OT victory over Mississippi last Saturday may have extracted a physical and emotional toll.

That's not to say Alabama isn't capable of pulling off an upset, but it does suggest the Crimson Tide would have to play better than it has to this point of the season. Even then it would require some help from the Vols in the form of turnovers, costly penalties or breakdowns in the kicking game. However, Tennessee has a plus turnover ratio, is the least penalized team in the conference and has had two weeks to shore up shoddy kick coverage that surrendered a pair of TDs against Georgia.

Otherwise, UT's special teams play has been solid this season with solid gold performances by punter Briton Colquitt and place kicker James Wilhoit. The Vols also produced a touchdown with a blocked punt and recovery against Georgia.

Could Tennessee overlook Alabama toward upcoming contests at South Carolina, vs. LSU and at Arkansas? It seems highly unlikely. First of all: IT'S FREAKIN' ALABAMA. The Third Saturday in October, the annual autumn clash of crimson and orange, checkerboard end zones and hounds tooth hats. It's a game that captures the very essence of college football — all the color, pageantry and pathos.

Furthermore, the Vols are in contention for a BCS bowl bid. The last BCS bowl they played in was in 1999. The last one they won was in 1998. UT would need to win out to receive such a bid. And winning out begins with Alabama.

The final reason Tennessee won't be caught flat is much less obvious but probably every bit as significant as the aforementioned. If the Vols beat Bama, they will exceed their 2005 win total and assure they won't have a losing season. The icing on top is they get a chance to do it against the team that ruined it for them last year.

Sure, not having a losing season may seem like less than a compelling reason to be sky high for a game. It's the type of motive that only on a team that has lived through a losing season, and its aftermath, can fully understand.

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