Matchup: Alabama

This week, Tennessee takes on Alabama in Tuscaloosa. This is our take on this Vols vs Crimson Tide matchup.

The Alabama game has a special meaning for Tennessee's top three dogs on the coaching chain.

Phillip Fulmer called the UT-Alabama rivalry the greatest in college football. He's proud of his 11-3-1 record against the Crimson Tide, not to mention his 2-1 record as a player.

Defensive coordinator John Chavis is best friends with Alabama defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, a former UT player and assistant. Both grew up in Dillon, S.C.

Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe is an Alabama graduate who worked as a student manager under Bear Bryant and rejected a job offer to return to his alma mater in the late 1990s.

Fulmer would like nothing better than to get his 12th win over Alabama. Gen. Robert Neyland is believed to be the only coach with a dozen wins over Alabama; he went 12-5-1.

Chavis has never coached in a game against Steele. The two talk regularly, even during the season, but not about each other's football teams, Chavis said. Chavis said neither team has an edge because of inside knowledge about the other's personality.

``This will be a different deal,'' Chavis said. ``I've coached against other good friends, but Kevin is more than a friend. He's family. We're like brothers and have been a long, long time. It'll be neat being on the same field.''

Cutcliffe said he's coached enough against Alabama that he doesn't get extra motivation going against his homestate school. He's a Tennessee man.

On the recommendation of Fulmer, then UT's offensive line coach, Cutcliffe was hired by Johnny Majors as a graduate assistant in 1982 after serving as a high school head coach in Birmingham.

Cutcliffe remembers some 10 years ago when Alabama made a pitch to hire him as offensive coordinator. Did he seriously consider the offer?

``Not really,'' Cutcliffe said. ``There was some consideration, just getting back around my mother and some pride in my school. But I never really gave it a real serious consideration. I can't remember what year (about 1998) they approached me.

``I listened to what they had to say but you know how I feel about Tennessee. My friends are here and my wife being from here, this is home. And I've spent a lot of years here. It makes you not really look at a whole lot of jobs, period. Not anything to say about Alabama, just period. I kind of like being in East Tennessee.''

Here's a look a the position-by-position matchups.

Game #: 1136
Site: Tuscaloosa
Date: Oct. 20
Conference: SECW
Coach Match-up:
For the Vols - Fulmer and for the Crimson Tide - Saban


Crimson Tide

UT's line is jelling. Ainge hasn't been sacked in 218 pass attempts and UT has given up a nation's best two sacks all season. Meanwhile, the run game has gone from averaging 113.7 yards in the first two games to 196.3. Alabama's line is anchored by center Antoine Caldwell and left tackle Andre Smith. Bama averages 18.3 more rushing yards per game, but has allowed 13 sacks.


UT's Erik Ainge continues to lead the SEC in passing yards per game (259) and completion percentage (66.5). He's had four career 300-yard games, one against Alabama (302 last year). Ainge has beaten Alabama twice in Knoxville – 17-13 in 2004, 16-13 in 2006. He hardly played in the 6-3 Alabama win in 2005. In his career, Ainge has six interceptions and one touchdown pass against the Tide. He's 9-2 in SEC road games. Alabama's John Parker Wilson set a record last year with seven straight 200-yard games and finished with 2,707 yards. Wilson has completed 55.1 percent of his passes for 216.1 yards per game this season.


UT's Arian Foster has averaged 118.5 yards in his last two games with a newfound ability to cut back. Montario Hardesty has averaged 73 yards in the last two outings, combining speed and power. LaMarcus Coker has a disappointing 140 yards this season, 101 in one game. Alabama's Terry Grant (5-10, 188) is a scatback who is averaging 84.7 yards per game, ninth in the SEC. Glen Coffee has 413 yards but had two fumbles against Ole Miss. Fullback Baron Huber, a Knoxville product, is a solid lead blocker who began his college career on defense.


UT's Lucas Taylor (41 for 418) leads the SEC in receiving yards per game (103.0) and he's averaging 6.83 yards per carry – both figures better than Robert Meachem's numbers from a year ago. Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe are second with 28 catches each, but Rogers has dropped at least eight passes this season. Tight end Chris Brown has 21 catches. The Tide's DJ Hall is the school's all-time leading receiver. He's caught 37 passes this season. Matt Caddell (23) and Mike McCoy (21) have replaced Keith Brown (9) as Wilson's favorite targets.


Crimson Tide

Tackle Demonte Bolden has been UT's best lineman. J.T. Mapu and Robert Ayers took a step back against Mississippi State. Xavier Mitchell is solid at end. Arkansas rushed for 301, Georgia 153 against the Tide. (Georgia had 69 against UT). End Wallace Gilberry is the Tide's top lineman; he has four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in the last two games in the team's 3-4 alignment.


UT's Rico McCoy (42 tackles) and Jerod Mayo (4-0) lead the team in tackles. Ryan Karl has played better the last two games. Alabama's Ezekial Knight, who began his career as a receiver, is fourth on the team with 41 tackles. True freshman Rolando McClain and Prince Hall share the middle. McClain is second on the team with 42 stops. Hall was a 2006 freshman All-American. Darren Mustin, a transfer from MTSU, has been a pleasant surprise.


UT's Jon Hefney is playing better after a poor start. Freshmen Eric Berry and Brent Vinson are athletic. Marsalous Johnson has been the team's most consistent defensive back. Bama's Simeon Castille is one of the SEC's premier corners. He's got 12 career interceptions. True freshman Kareem Jackson starts at right cornerback. Senior Marcus Carter is the strong safety. Free safety Rashard Johnson is a former walk-on. Alabama is seventh in the SEC in pass-defense efficiency, UT is last.

S. TeamsCOMMENTSS. Teams

UT's Daniel Lincoln is the most accurate kicker in the SEC (12 of 13 field goals). Britton Colquitt (43.4) is one of the best punters. Hefney showed a spark in punt returns with 65 yards on four returns against Mississippi State. UT is third in the SEC in kickoff returns compared to Alabama's 11th. Javier Arenas leads the SEC in punt returns (16.1) and is dangerous on kick returns. P.J. Fitzgerald averages 38.8 yards per punt and Leigh Tiffin has hit 11 of 17 field goals.


Crimson Tide

While at LSU, Nick Saban won two of three from Fulmer. UT has won three of the last four in Tuscaloosa, losing 6-3 in 2005. In fact, UT has lost just once at Alabama since 1992, officially going 6-1. But Bryant-Denny will be electric for rival UT. Will the Vols be able to answer an Alabama run? They didn't at Florida.


Tennessee 31, Alabama 24

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