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Alabama vs Tennessee Preview: When the Volunteers have the Ball

Is Brain Maurer the answer for Tennessee?

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a Rocky start to Top the season for Tennessee. Their losses to Georgia State and BYU in the first two weeks brought on top-notch internet quality jokes from across the nation. Since then, they’ve also lost to respectable foes in Georgia and Florida, but turned around and took care of business against Chatanooga and then unexpectedly defeated a down Mississippi State team.

Though all of it, though, Tennessee has remained a middling-to-respectable defensive squad, while touting a fairly pathetic offense. In his 3rd year as a contested starter, Jarrett Guarantano was benched for dynamic freshman Brian Maurer a couple of weeks ago, only to get his job back last week after Maurer went out with a concussion. Guarantano responded by completing 6 of his 7 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. Might we have a controversy on our hands?

On the season, Guarantano has 856 yards with a 64% completion rate and has thrown 8 touchdowns and 4 picks. Maurer, on the other hand, has 364 yards on a 46% completion rate, and has 4 interceptions of his own, though only 2 touchdowns. The numbers aren’t as good, but his extra 4 yards per completion are tough to ignore. Guarantano has been very conservative, but Maurer has no qualms with pushing the ball down field.

Who Tennessee goes with this weekend remains to be seen. Maurer is supposedly totally ready to go after his injury last week, so don’t be surprised if the Volunteers allow him to go deep as often as he wants in what looks like a hopeless game for them.

Senior Juaun Jennings continues to be a top receiving target for the Volunteers. With 412 yards and 5 TDs, the 6’3” senior has built on his strong freshman and junior campaigns, and has more than double the receptions of the team’s second leading receiver. Behind him is senior Marquez Calloway, who’s been a deep threat his entire career, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch. TE Dominick Wood-Anderson and and WR Josh Palmer round out the regular pass-catching group, but neither have really been a significant threat this season.

In the running game, Ty Chandler has been the man. 75 attempts for 383 yards and a pair of touchdowns leads the Volunteers in every category. He’s been spelled by freshman Eric Gray and junior Tim Jordan, but, ultimately, the rushing offense goes through Chandler. The Junior has been a consistent presence for three years in Knoxville, and has a combination of speed and power that allow him to be the go-to guy in pretty much any situation.

Again, all credit to Zane Murffitt for the graphics from Tableau here.

The Tide’s defense dwarfs Tennessee’s offense in nearly every category you can think of here, aside from one: stuff rate. While Alabama’s front 7 has really struggled to created negative plays in the rushing game, the Volunteer offensive line has generally done a good job of getting Ty Chandler past the line of scrimmage. This will be a good test for Alabama’s defensive line in trying shut down the “4-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust” strategy.

The only other somewhat effective part of the Volunteer offense has been their explosive passes since Maurer took over. However, for all Alabama’s defensive faults this season, they’ve been absolutely elite at shutting down the deep passing game. Maurer may attempt to challenge that, but expect it to end poorly.

All in all, it’s tough to see any way that the Volunteers get more than a couple of scores this week against Alabama’s starting defense. They may get an extra score against the backups or something, but I don’t see them scoring more than 10 points against Alabama’s starting defense.