No. 4 Alabama at Tennessee, ESPN2: Thank you, Lane Kiffin, for infusing a little life back into this rivalry. He made it interesting back in 2009 when his Tennessee team nearly knocked off the eventual national champs, and he’s doing it again this year with his return to Knoxville as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. You can bet the fans will be a little more rowdy in welcoming Kiffin back to Neyland Stadium on Saturday. But despite all the hoopla surrounding Kiffin, there’s still a game to be played. Alabama comes in as a heavy favorite, and the Vols could be in trouble if quarterback Justin Worley isn’t able to play.
What's this now about starting quarterback Justin Worley?
Starting quarterback Justin Worley's status remains unknown heading into the 6:30 p.m. Saturday visit from No. 4 Alabama. Vol coach Butch Jones has been vague with answers on Worley's status when meeting with reporters in Knoxville this week. The passer left last week's 34-3 loss at Ole Miss with a shoulder injury after being sacked seven times.
"It's ongoing right now," Jones said on his Wednesday radio show, according to the Times Free-Press. "We'll have to make a decision here later in the week with Justin's status. The great thing for us is the way we practice all of our quarterback get equal reps in practice."
On Tuesday Jones said Worley was "making progress."
Jones, speaking on Nashville radio station 104.5 The Zone, said Worley was still being evaluated and indicated the injury was a "cumulative effect" of all the hits he's taken this season.
Tennessee has surrendered an SEC-worst 30 sacks. "As we've come accustomed to, you need more than one quarterback, especially in this conference," Jones said. "They've taken some valuable repetitions over time. If Justin isn't able to go, they'll be ready to step up and we would play both quarterbacks if Justin doesn't go on Saturday."
Peterman, a third-year sophomore, has seen the field in four games this season. He's 8-of-15 for 39 yards.
Dobbs, a sophomore, hasn't played this year and was anticipated by many to redshirt the season. He made his collegiate debut last season against Alabama when he took over for Worley, who exited with an injury. He completed 5-of-12 passes and led a touchdown drive.
Uh oh. If it comes to this, the Vols (who were likely already going to struggle to score points) are setup for a horrible night. Aaaaaaaaand yes. It can get worse.
Before Tennessee's offensive line can navigate another one of the SEC's stingiest defenses, the Volunteers will have to manage injuries to a couple of starters. Left guard Marcus Jackson (leg) was limited during Tuesday's practice, and right tackle Coleman Thomas (ankle) spent all of it rehabilitating after the two players were unable to finish last week's loss to Ole Miss.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones updated the status of both players after practice. "Marcus was out there and did what he needed to do, and the rest was getting the rehabilitation that he needs," he said. "Coleman rehabbed the entire practice, so I think Marcus is a little bit ahead of Coleman in terms of availability. We fully anticipate Marcus going through full practice tomorrow. Coleman, we'll have to wait and see how it goes."
The Vols have allowed 30 sacks and rank 119th nationally in rushing offense and could have a pair of new starters against the Crimson Tide, who are allowing just 13 points per game and coming off a shutout of Texas A&M.
Yikes. A gimped up version of an already terrible offensive line going up against a defensive line that his really hitting its stride? Somebody bring the Tylenol.
First, he said they want to start with the best matchup. If the opposing offense is their strength, Alabama won't opt to kick off it the coin toss goes its way.
Next is the weather, not the rain, but the wind. "Wind has more of an effect on a football game than probably anything else, and it had an effect at Ole Miss," Saban said. "You always want to have the wind in the fourth quarter and the only way you can get the wind in the fourth quarter for sure is if you win the toss and take the ball."
Read this article. It's a fascinating description of a lot of factors that are considered for what seems like a pretty simple decision. It also includes a minor revelation, which is that Saban would apparently prefer to always start on offense. Who'd'a thunk it?
Saban quickly straightened up and delivered his strongest message yet about the Crimson Tide's much-improved team chemistry. One year after a litany of issues bubbled and ultimately boiled over after back-to-back losses, this year's version of Alabama is "a really fun team to coach," Saban said.
Why? No "energy vampires."
"There's a lot of really good players on our team that are really good people and good guys. And this team, regardless of whether we win another game, this is a really fun team to coach because we don't have a lot of energy vampires on this team," Saban said.
"I've talked about that before, you spend all your time and energy because you've got four or five guys that won't ever do things the right way. You're always spending your time trying to get them to do it right. The other 95 guys that are doing right, you don't have any time to spend with them over the four or five. We don't really have players like that on our team this year."
And for a group that was ranked No. 1 in the nation as recruits, they're fighting through that mental wall. Alabama coach Nick Saban said he had a chat with some of those players this week.
"Sometimes they get a little frustrated with the fact that maybe their reputation and the expectation is not necessarily what's happening for them, and that creates a little bit of frustration," Saban said. "But I think the thing you want guys to do is focus on the things they control. So if what you have is different from what you want, change what you do, change how you do it. That's what you control. That gives you the best chance to get better, the best chance to improve."
When Kiffin returns to Neyland Stadium on Saturday as offensive coordinator of No. 4-ranked Alabama, don’t hold back. You can boo and heckle him all you want, but have some perspective. Tennessee has gone 24-32 since he left. The Vols were 5-7 the season before he arrived.
Taunt him because he’s wearing crimson. Jeer him because he failed at USC. Wave $14 at him for an unpaid haircut because it would be too funny not to.
Just don’t waste your energy hating someone who left more than four years ago, was fired from his last job unceremoniously and was rescued from the trash heap only to go back to being an assistant.
Hey Coach! with Nick Saban
Jonathan Allen (defensive end) interview