Devil's Advocate

Welcome to Devil's Advocate — Inside Tennessee's version of punch/counter punch — where each week analysts Randy Moore and Jeffery Stewart choose their sideline and make their cases for our readers' regular amusement and occasional edification.



For the Tennessee Vols, the keys to beating Alabama Saturday in Tuscaloosa are rather obvious:

- Slow down wide receiver D.J. Hall, the Tide's one quality offensive player

- Throw away from Simeon Castille, Bama's one big-time defensive player

- Don't let the replay official decide the outcome in the final seconds.

Basically, the Crimson Tide has an overpaid coach and an overrated team. Despite a 5-2 overall record and a 3-1 SEC mark, Bama is a train wreck waiting to happen. This team has been winning in spite of itself.

Alabama blew a 21-point lead before edging Arkansas 41-38. The Tide blew a 23-point FIRST-QUARTER lead and needed an end-zone interception on the game's final play to nip Houston 30-24. Last week Bama needed a controversial call reversal by the replay official in the final seconds to put away mighty Mississippi, which remains winless in league play.

As inept as they are, the Rebels (1-5, 0-4) outplayed Bama, whose defense bears no resemblance to the superb unit the Vols faced on their last visit to Tuscaloosa in 2005. Ole Miss tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis shredded the Tide for 131 rushing yards on just 20 rushes, an average of 6.5 yards per attempt. And former walk-on Seth Adams picked apart Bama's secondary to the tune of 284 yards. Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge must be licking his chops.

Alabama's offense is no world-beater, either. Whereas Tennessee is getting more and more from its ground game each week, the Tide is getting less and less. That has forced quarterback John Parker Wilson – who ranks ninth among SEC quarterbacks in passing efficiency – to try and carry the attack in recent weeks. Wilson threw 53 times in a loss to Florida State, 45 times against Arkansas, 40 times vs. Ole Miss and 35 times against Georgia.

Speaking of Georgia, Bama lost to the Dawgs 26-23 in Tuscaloosa just two weeks before Tennessee routed the Dawgs 35-14 in Knoxville.

Tennessee is a team on the rise. The Vols have rebounded from the debacle at The Swamp to trounce their last three foes – Arkansas State, Georgia and Mississippi State – by an average margin of 18 points. Conversely, Bama is a team on the decline. The Tide is 2-2 in its last four games with the victory margins being six points vs. Houston and three points vs. Ole Miss.

Bottom line: The only area in which the Tide is superior to Tennessee is coach's salary.



Although Tennessee has had a decisive 11-3 advantage in the Alabama series under Phillip Fulmer, the last five years have been about as close to even as two teams can get.

The Vols hold a 3-2 edge over that span but the wins were by scores of 16-13 in 2006, 17-13 in 2004 and 51-43 in five overtimes in 2003. The Vols lost to Bama 6-3 in 2005 and 34-14 in 2002. Tennessee has scored a total of 101 points in those five games. Bama has scored a total of 109. Three of those five games were played in Knoxville. In two of those five seasons the Tide were serving NCAA sanctions which included a reduction of scholarships.

Over the last five seasons Alabama has gone 37-26 while Tennessee went 42-21. To be that close it's somewhat surprising to realize Bama has had four head coaches during that time (although one never actually coached a game) while Tennessee has had one.

The point is that even with all the turmoil, handicaps, scrutiny, different systems and assorted distractions that have surrounded the program in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide have managed to go toe-to-toe with Tennessee and trade blows on even terms.

Now the Crimson clan has come together under head coach/defensive mastermind Nick Saban, a man who took over a downtrodden 3-8 Tiger team and won a national title in four years while compiling a 45-14 record and establishing LSU as one of the country's premier programs.

Fresh from a misguided foray in the NFL, Saban is eager to prove he's worth the $350,000 he pulls down per game. And after months of traveling the highways and visiting the cities and hamlets he's acutely aware of the great importance Bama's fan base places on this contest. Ditto for the players who realize a win over Tennessee goes a long way toward making a season a success.

Undoubtedly, Tennessee (4-2) has played better than Alabama the last three weeks, but don't be fooled by the Tide's struggles against Ole Miss. Bama also beat Ole Miss by a field goal in both 2005 and 2006 the week before playing the Big Orange and they bounced back with a 3-point win and a 3-point loss. Despite close calls against both Ole Miss and Houston Bama should have large emotional reserve to draw from especially playing before the home folks.

It remains to be seen if the Vols will have as much emotion playing on the road for the second consecutive week. Add to that the fact Alabama is off next week and UT plays a critical contest against South Carolina and it's easy to see just how dangerous this spot is for the Vols.

You can expect Nick Saban has devised a plan to take UT out of its offensive rhythm and to take Eric Ainge out of his comfort zone. The Vols will see a variety of run blitzes and some combination zone and man coverage that may be difficult to recognize. There will also be some late shifting of defenders designed to alter Ainge's pre-snap reads and an attempt to apply pressure. When forced to move in the pocket his accuracy drops off dramatically.

On offense the Tide will try to be patient, control the ball and drain the clock. They will show the Vols a lot of misdirection designed to take away UT's aggression and they will look to run behind left tackle Andre Smith who should have the advantage over any defender he's matched up against.

There's no argument, or surprise, that Tennessee has better overall personnel than Alabama, but will that be enough on Saturday in Tuscaloosa?

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