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"Games like this are more about the rivalry and less about people's record," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. "Tennessee has a really good offensive team. It's always a challenge to play on the road. They are a very well-coached team. Derek (Dooley) has done a good job there. This game means a lot to a lot of people. Certainly it means a lot to me and to us. I think our players will work hard this week to get ready to play the best football."
Alabama has won five games in a row in the series. Every game has been won by at least 20 points, except for 2009, when Terrence Cody blocked what would have been a game-winning field goal in Tuscaloosa. "Being a second-year player, it’s kind of grown on me now," linebacker Trey DePriest said about the rivalry. "Last year, I didn’t know. I thought it was always Alabama-Auburn. I didn’t really know about the Tennessee game. But a lot of the older fans take this game real seriously. It’s bigger than Alabama-Auburn to them. I try to please the fans as much as possible, so it definitely means a lot."
Thankfully, whatever the turmoil and uncertainty appearing to surround their coach, the Vols are looking at Saturday the same way Big Orange and Crimson Tide squads have looked at the Third Saturday in October for 95 years. "It meant everything," UT junior defensive lineman Daniel Hood said as he recalled the importance of this game when he was growing up. "[Peyton] Manning directing the band when we beat Bama. Talking to Condredge [Holloway], who I don't think ever beat Bama. They said that any time they have a letterman's meeting, they always start out with 'Stand up if you beat Alabama.'"
The Tide held Missouri to 3 yards rushing last weekend and has five interceptions and eight sacks in the past two games. Defensive end Damion Square attributes the success to how well young players such as safeties HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri as well as linebacker Xzavier Dickson have stepped in for departed stars. Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw were among the first 35 players selected in the NFL Draft. "Those guys are playing excellent," Square said. "It’s not the guys who have been out on the field for a while and played a key role in this defense for a while; it’s the guys that stepped in and took the place of Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower. Those guys are playing great football, and that’s the reason our defense is playing the way it is."
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday that LaMichael Fanning showed "very, very poor judgement" when he tackled Missouri running back Russell Hansbrough by picking him up and slamming him into the turf Saturday in the Tide’s 42-10 win. Fanning was flagged for a personal foul penalty for the move, which is known as a "suplex" by professional wrestling fans. "I think this is a young player who’s excited about getting into the game, makes very, very poor judgment on making that play," Saban said. "It’s something that we don’t condone here. It’s not how we want our players to play. I think he understands that what he did was not done in the right way in terms of being a strong competitor, and we are managing internally things for him to do to make better choices and decisions in the future."
That exodus of NFL talent hasn’t made Alabama’s defense any more generous. The top-ranked Crimson Tide still leads the nation in run, pass, scoring and total defense — just like last season. In fact, the numbers are all slightly better than last year’s national title group that drew speculation about whether it was ‘Bama’s best. Alabama’s doing it despite losing seven starters — three NFL first-rounders and four first-team All-Americans — from the defense. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said it’s just part of Nick Saban’s assembly line of talent. "They change jersey numbers, not guys," Dooley said. "They sign the same guys every year, just different names. They draft. We recruit. And they get the first 25 picks of the draft."
Search us as to why the Crimson Tide's 42-10 victory at Missouri and Oregon's first bye week of the season were enough to finally convince the lone holdout in the Coaches Poll to shift his No. 1 vote from the Ducks to the Tide --it's not as if either the Alabama blowout or Oregon's off-week (of course) were anything surprising. But if the timing feels unusual, the end result feels inevitable; with all 60 first-place votes in the AP and now all 59 in the Coaches, Alabama is now a unanimous No. 1 in college football.
Alabama (6-0). 'Bama lost six defensive starters to the 2012 Draft, three in the first round, and currently leads the nation (again) in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass defense, pass efficiency defense and turnover margin.
"We got together and pulled some of the guys together and we said, 'Look, if you don't want to play, go down to the scout team because we're tired of losing here and things are going to change and things are going to change this week,'" Lathers said. "Guys that weren't doing it right, we're going to kick them off the field."
Vinnie got a taste of what his mother is like during a game when he and his father sat with her and watched Vinnie's brother, Tino, play for Pitt in a loss at Syracuse. "I had never witnessed it before, but she becomes a wreck," Vinnie said. "She’s emotional. She – oh, my gosh – she just wishes the best for us at all times. She’s so passionate and loves us all so much. Especially when one of us gets hurt, it just kills her inside. She is a fan favorite of all of us and is, honestly, our biggest fan. It’s definitely going to be really tough on her. "I don’t even think she’s coming to the game."
An Alabama secondary that lost three starters from its 2011 national championship team expected to get its first big downfield test of the year at Arkansas. But then Tyler Wilson got a concussion and was forced to miss the game. It might have come at Missouri last week, but James Franklin was out with an injury. Now, it may be this weekend against Tennessee, where Tyler Bray is second in the conference in passing with 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. Bray's numbers last Saturday against Mississippi State's solid secondary were pedestrian -- 13-of-24, 148 yards, two TDs, one interception - but Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter will be the best pair of receivers Alabama has faced this season - and may be the best it'll see all year.
Tennessee has a big offensive line that Nick Saban called "very physical." "They've got three or four guys that have played a lot of football and are really experienced," the Alabama football coach said Monday, looking ahead to a 6 p.m. CDT game Saturday at Knoxville, Tenn. "This is by far the best offensive line we've played against all year long. I think they do a really good job in their protection schemes, make it difficult to pressure them."
"When you're coaching, you can't watch anybody," he said. "You can only watch yourself. You know, you play a game, you grade the film, you show the film to the boys the next day, then you get on the next opponent. I don't get to see what everybody else is doing. So now I get to watch everybody, and I really enjoy that. "I miss being with the boys. And when they play on Saturdays, I kind of wish I was coaching. But at my age -- I'll be 83 in another month. That's too old to be climbing those dadgum stairs out there."