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 sides and make their cases for our readers' regular amusement and occasional edification.



Tennessee played a fine football game last Saturday vs. Mississippi State, and if the Vols play equally well this Saturday night against Alabama ... well, they still won't win.

Alabama has the same philosophy as Mississippi State, run the ball down the opponent's throat, but the Tide has twice as many quality athletes collaborating to accomplish the feat. That's why Bama is 7-0 and averaging 32.3 points per game, while MSU is 2-5 and averaging 14.4.

Alabama also has a passing attack, another trait Mississippi State lacks. Bulldog quarterback Tyson Lee completed 12 of 23 passes for 114 yards vs. UT last weekend with three interceptions and zero touchdowns. Tide QB John Parker Wilson did a little better than that last time he faced Tennessee, completing 32 of 46 for 363 yards and three TDs with zero interceptions in the 2007 game.

Even if Tennessee's defense manages to slow down a Tide attack that hung 34 points on Clemson and 41 on Georgia - two preseason top-10 teams - the Vols will need probably 24 to 27 points in order to win. With UT's best receiver (Gerald Jones) and its best blocker (Anthony Parker) sidelined - or at least hampered - by injuries, getting that level of production is little more than a pipe dream.

Tennessee's best hope is to get off to a fast start, get the crowd fired up and force Bama to play from behind.

Well ... good luck with that. Alabama is the fastest-starting team in college football, whereas Tennessee is the slowest-starting team. The Tide has outscored opponents 95-3 in the first quarter, whereas the Vols have been outscored 14-44. Incredibly, Bama trailed just 1 minute and 15 seconds of actual clock time in its last eight games. Conversely, the Tide led 433 minutes and 50 seconds, while being tied 44 minutes and 55 seconds.

Here's another number to crunch: Bama's Nick Saban has beaten UT's Phil Fulmer three times in four meetings, even though Fulmer had the better team each time. Saban's LSU Tigers, coming off a home loss to UAB, upset 11th-ranked Tennessee 38-31 at Baton Rouge in 2000. Saban's Tigers shocked the second-ranked and heavily favored Vols 31-20 in the 2001 SEC Championship Game. Saban's Crimson Tide, headed for a 6-6 regular season, humiliated Tennessee 41-17 last fall in Tuscaloosa.

At least, the Vols won't be losing to a lesser foe Saturday night. Saban's team is clearly superior this time.



There's a tendency to see a contest between a 7-0 team and a 3-4 team and immediately calculate the combination of factors that would have occur for the underdog to have any chance of an upset. I couldn't agree with my esteemed colleague more on the point of Alabama enjoying an advantage in talent this time around. However that edge isn't nearly as decisive as the records indicate. There's been a general leveling of the playing field in college football thus the disparity that once existed between the haves and have nots has largely vanished.

In fact Tennessee may actually have more depth than Alabama and the longer the Vols can keep it close the better their chances of pulling off the win. The Tide has shown signs of venerability in its last two games narrowly holding off Kentucky and Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa.

Conversely the Vols are coming off their best offensive performance of the season and are demonstrating a growing consistency and confidence in the the new scheme installed by Dave Clawson. This is the point in the season when a program could expect to see major progress after adopting a new scheme.

Alabama's offense has been humming all fall and the Tide enjoys its greatest personnel advantage at the skill positions of quarterback, receiver and running back. On the other hand UT's defense is its strength and the talent as well as motivation exists to keep the Tide's go squad in check.

UT's D has also been good at forcing turnovers as it did against Mississippi State last week. The Vols don't have to score a defensive touchdown to beat Bama but if they maintain the upper hand in the all important turnover ratio they're chances are greatly enhanced. Even a plus-one edge could be enough to shift the balance of power in this game.

The formula for success in this game is much the same as Alabama used to beat superior Tennessee teams in the early 90's. Keep the score low, keep the game close, keep the crowd loud, maintain balance on offense and win with the kicking game.

No the almighty doesn't have to drop everything else for the Vols to beat Alabama Saturday. It can be achieved with sound football and by following the General's maxims to the letter.

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