Happy Friday, everyone. Plenty of last minute information for you leading into Alabama's home tilt with Tennessee. Reality is that Alabama is playing against itself tomorrow - the two rosters frankly aren't comparable in any form or fashion. Should Alabama play its best football, the Vols will be out-classed. I like the vibe I've sensed from the team the past few games, they seem as locked in at this point of the season as any Alabama team in recent memory. I believe they put together a complete performance tomorrow and cover handily.
Tennessee really has no one on the outside that can challenge the vastly improved Alabama secondary, and trying to run right at this Alabama defense is a fool's errand. Any significant yards gained will likely come via the athletic exploits of mobile QB Joshua Dobbs, but there won't be enough of them to make much of a dent on the scoreboard. On the other side, the Tennessee defense has fluctuated between suspect and tire-fire all season. Early in the week I predicted a 34-10 final, and I'm sticking with it.
On to it:
Saban was encouraged by the progress of senior center Ryan Kelly as he went through the concussion protocol this week. Kelly left Alabama's win over Texas A&M just before halftime on Saturday and did not return. He wore a black noncontact jersey during the open portion of practices this week.
"He did practice a little today, did some things in practice, mostly non-contact type stuff, but he was able to move around and we'll see how he responds to that tomorrow and maybe he'll be able to do a little bit more," Saban said.
If there is any reason for pause in this game, it's that Ryan Kelly could be forced to sit out. Even still, lesser teams than Alabama have found plenty of success against the Tennessee defense.
At the time, Tennessee's crushing 28-27 loss at Florida -- after leading 27-14 early in the fourth quarter -- was seen as an enormous disappointment. But with the Gators having since blown away Ole Miss and taken LSU to the wire on the road (and without Will Grier), that viewpoint should have changed. The Vols came within one failed stop on 4th-and-14 of knocking off a top-15 team on the road; not too shabby, right? It's just one game, but if the Vols can reprise -- or improve on -- that performance, their special teams advantage and the potential for Coker turnovers could keep this one closer than expected. They aren't going to win -- let's not get crazy here, and with this Tide defense, a Vols upset would be plenty crazy -- but the Tide should be kept on its toes. Alabama 31, Tennessee 21.
"The potential for Coker turnovers" is a narrative that will likely continue, though he seems to have learned from mistakes made earlier in the season. It took a while, but hopefully he understands that the strength of this team is a suffocating defense. With a defense of this caliber, the offense's first priority is to protect the football. As the game goes along and the other team's defense is forced into extended action, the points will come.
The Vols enter Saturday's game ranked 13th in the conference in total defense and are allowing 25.7 points per game, which is tied with Auburn for the second-most in the league. Now they face Alabama, which is sixth in the SEC in total offense largely due to Henry, the 6-foot-3, 242-pound former five-star recruit who is coming off a career-high 236-yard performance against Texas A&M last week and has scored a touchdown in an Alabama-record 12 consecutive games.
But Sutton said of tackling the 6-foot-3, 240-pound back, "I don’t think it will be a problem. He’s obviously a great running back, but we’re a great defense as well." It’s going to come down to who wants it more, Sutton said. And in that regard, he likes his team’s chances. "I won’t say that [Alabama] doesn’t handle pressure well as a football team," Sutton said. "But close games with them and getting games into the fourth quarter with those guys, they start to get out of character at points. "We feel like we can get to that point throughout the course of the game, get to the fourth quarter, and we’ll be able to get it done."
Sure, bringing down Henry should be no problem for these guys...
Look, I get that Sutton plays for Tennessee and it's important for any player to have confidence. However, the reality is that their defense has flat-out stunk for most of the season, allowing over 400 yards a game and ranking outside the top 40 in defensive S&P. Throwing shade at the Alabama offense going into the game probably isn't the smartest choice.
-- How about Calvin Ridley's development? Saban said he got fast-tracked when Robert Foster got hurt. They were going to move him along slower before that. He's a mature guy. Like Fitzpatrick, he doesn't act like a freshman. "They don't go rat trap on you in the game."
-- New to practice this year: A 3-minute intense period of good-on-good attacking the ball. It's made a big difference on both sides of the ball. The idea started with a conversation with Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, a Saban assistant with the Miami Dolphins.
Ridley has been a revelation for this team. He will have a tough matchup with the aforementioned Sutton, the loose-lipped veteran leader of the Vols' secondary. On the second note, how many college coaches list current NFL head coaches among their former assistants? Nick has all sorts of resources he can tap into, and his willingness to set ego aside and learn from others is probably among his greatest attributes.
"(Butch Jones) has done a really good job of reaching out and make me feel welcome," he said. "Early on not even the former players felt welcome. It was pretty silly, really. But Butch has done a great job of reaching out and making everybody welcome."
Rumor has it that Kiffin and Dooley refused to allow Krispy Kremes in the media room. Butch Jones is reportedly more donut-friendly.
Butch Jones has the face of a fat baby.
— Lost Lettermen (@LostLettermen) August 15, 2014
It’s a streaky series, and it seems like it has been that way for a long time. When one team gets on top, it stays there for a while. Nick Saban has never lost to Tennessee since he has been at Alabama, and that’s a big deal. Even in 2007, when Saban had a 6-6 team in his first year, with a bunch of players suspended for the textbook scandal, they still beat Tennessee.
Nice write-up from Alabama great John Copeland discussing the Tennessee rivalry.
Saban said he believes many of Kamara's behavioral issues were caused by physical problems. "We thought Alvin was an outstanding player," Saban said. "He probably would have played here for us as a freshman, but he had a knee injury, just a scope that kept him out three or four weeks right at a critical time early in the season. He never could get back in the swing of things because he missed so much time, and he got a little frustrated with it." Frustrated enough to leave Division I football, and look for a path back.
Alvin Kamara was a good friend of Altee Tenpenny and seems particularly affected by his passing. Looking back on that running back class of 2013, who'd have thought that only one of them would still be on campus at this point? Just goes to show that recruiting is an inexact science.
From these formations, the Tide were mostly content to sit back with two deep safeties, rush four, and force the Aggies to execute their way down the field. They'd even do so while playing a great deal of true cover 2 to the boundary with their boundary corner as a force defenders and Mattias-Smith playing deep zone over the top in a "bend don't break" fashion. The Tide never seem to have a dominant edge-rushers (Courtney Upshaw came the closest) and seem to instead rely on a a mixture of collapsing the pocket with their defensive tackles and strongside ends, or blitzing. In the dime package this approach becomes totally feasible since the coverage is good enough to either buy time for a defensive tackle like Jonathan Allen to get pressure up the middle (two sacks vs A&M) and the personnel is diverse enough to allow DC Kirby Smart to bring blitzes from all different angles (five different Tide players had sacks vs A&M).
Great write-up on the Alabama defense's adjustment against the spread offenses. As mentioned, collapsing the pocket without having to blitz is the strategic key, and it really isn't anything new. The biggest difference is the depth of talent in the secondary that has held up long enough to allow the linemen to get a push.
They were going to visit four other schools, but when the moment came, his father Bob Mullaney was ready with some honest, easy to follow advice. "I just said to my son, ‘It’s real simple. I don’t know what else you’re going to hear from anybody else, but you’re going to be playing for a National Championship if you come here and they know you and they want you,’ " Bob said. Richard turned to his father and finalized it all right then and there: He committed and was going to become a new member of the Crimson Tide. "It really happened within a 48-hour period," Bob said. "Alabama did it right."
Great piece outlining Richard Mullaney's recruitment to Alabama. After Foster's injury, where would this team be without him?
Alabama will honor the late Ken Stabler before its Nov. 7 home game against the LSU Tigers. Stabler's family will be honored on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium before the game, while there will also be a pregame video and a story in the game program honoring the legendary quarterback's career as a member of the Crimson Tide.
Former Alabama walk-on Caleb Castille made his Hollywood debut as future Miami Dolphins great Tony Nathan in Woodlawn. The movie, which debuted Friday, follows Nathan as a high school running back who leads a newly integrated football team in 1970s Birmingham, Ala. and becomes one of Alabama coach Bear Bryant’s top recruits.
For quite some time, it seemed that there was always a Castille in a Crimson jersey. Nice to see Caleb get a chance at a career in Hollywood.
That's about it for today. Hate Tennessee early and often.