Preview: Tennessee vs. No. 4 Alabama

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Pig Howard
TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 26, 2013: wide receiver Alton 'pig' Howard #2 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the SEC matchup between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, AL. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee vs. No. 4 Alabama

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, Tenn.

TV: ESPN2

Series Record: Alabama leads 51-38-7

Setting the table:

The Tennessee-Alabama rivalry is always big. This one is massive as former UT head coach Lane Kiffin returns to Knoxville as the offensive coordinator of the Vols’ most bitter rival, Alabama. The teams still aren’t on level footing. The Vols are in the middle of what feels like a perpetual rebuilding job while Alabama remains near the top of the college football mountain. It’s hard to consider this an “off year” for Alabama, considering they are very much in the hunt to make the first annual College Football Playoff. But this Alabama team has shown a few flaws and this is the lowest they’ve been ranked coming into the Tennessee game since the 2010 season. Still, Alabama is the heavy favorite coming into this one. The Tide’s defense is still top notch and the Vols have really struggled to move the ball against strong defenses. It should be an interesting evening at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.

Where Alabama has the edge:

Alabama is the more talented team across the board. The Tide defense is on par with the Ole Miss defense, which was a unit that held the Vols to just three points in last weekend’s game. The defensive front seven will poise a huge problem for Tennessee’s weak offensive line, which might be without starting right tackle Coleman Thomas this weekend. Alabama running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry are among the best duos in the nation and, as a team, Alabama rushes for 223.7 yards per game. UT’s rushing defense is ninth in the SEC, giving up an average of 159.7 yards per game. Tennessee’s secondary has been up the task most of the season, but it will be tested by elite Alabama receiver Amari Cooper, who leads the SEC with 908 receiving yards.

Where Tennessee has the edge:

Alabama’s secondary has been suspect at times this season, though, like every other position, there’s plenty of talent there. If Tennessee can get any time, perhaps the receivers can make some plays. Maybe the thing Tennessee fans can cling to the most is that Alabama hasn’t been as good on the road this season, averaging just 11.5 points per game on offense and just a little over 300 yards per game with a 1-1 record in true road games this year.

Quotable:

“The game means everything to our football program and our fans because it is the University of Alabama, not because it is Lane Kiffin. He is a great coach but nobody knows who Lane Kiffin is. Again, that is for the fans. We have to concentrate on the game.”

– Tennessee head coach Butch Jones

Miscellaneous facts:

• Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley left last week’s game with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter and Butch Jones said on Wednesday night that his status is still uncertain for the game. If he can’t go the Vols would either go with backup quarterback Nathan Peterman or third-stringer Joshua Dobbs, who the coaching staff had planned on redshirting this year.

• The Vols are on an eight-game losing streak to teams from the SEC West.

• The Vols are on a 22-game losing streak to Top-10 teams, dating back to 2006

Game outlook:

It would be a dream scenario for every Tennessee fan to see Lane Kiffin knocked off in what would be a huge upset for the Vols. It’s not that it can’t happen, it’s just that it’s unlikely. Like Ole Miss did last week, Alabama should make life very difficult on Tennessee’s offense all night. The Tide also have enough weapons on offense to put some points on the board themselves. If the Vols have any chance, they’ll need to limit mistakes, hope Alabama’s road struggles come with them and maybe even need a touch of luck to pull this one off.

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