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Alabama vs Tennessee Preview: When The Crimson Tide has the Ball

Can Tennessee’s improving defense slow the Tide offense?

NCAA Football: Alabama at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee defense is giving up an average of 358.7 yards per game and 25.7 points per game so far this season. They are allowing 199 passing yards per game, 159.7 rushing yards per game, and 5.30 yards per play. This is good for 48th in the country in total defense. The Volunteers success rate on defense is #71 in the country, which is slightly below the national average. By the numbers, this year’s Tennessee defense is slightly better than the Volunteers of 2018.

The Volunteer defense is led by some familiar faces this season. Former Alabama assistants Derrick Ansley and Chris Rumph serve as defensive coordinator and co-defensive coordinator for the Vols. Head coach and former Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt still calls his share of plays from time to time for Tennessee as you might expect. The Vols typically run a base 4-2-5 defense, which has four linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs.

The Tennessee linebackers are led by seniors Darrell Taylor and Daniel Bituli. Taylor has 24 total tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and a fumble recovery so far this season. He had the most sacks of any returning player in the conference last season. Bituli has 21 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble this season. He entered the 2019 season as Tennessee’s active career leader in tackles with 178. With former starter Will Ignont leaving the team earlier this season, freshman linebacker Henry To’o To’o has seen his playing time increases significantly. He is second on the team in tackles with 34 total tackles. However, he will be out for the first half against Alabama due to a targeting penalty against Mississippi State.

The defensive backs for Tennessee are helmed by senior safety Nigel Warrior, junior safety Theo Jackson, and junior nickel back Shawn Shamburger. Nigel Warrior has 28 total tackles and 2 interceptions in 2019. He has been a starter for the Vols defense since the 2017 season. Theo Jackson leads the team in tackles this season with 37 total tackles. He also has an interception this year. Shawn Shamburger has 26 total tackles this season with 1 sack.

The Tennessee defensive line is manned by junior defensive end and former top recruit Aubrey Solomon, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Greg Emerson, and junior defensive end LaTrell Bumphus. Solomon, a Michigan transfer, has 14 total tackles and 1 sack this season. Greg Emerson has 18 total tackles and 1 sack this year. LaTrell Bumphus played tight end last season and moved to defensive end this year. So far this season, he has 15 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery.

As always, credit to Zane Murffitt for the Tableau charts.

The Matchup:

Alabama’s offense ranks in the top 10 nationally in almost every category. Alabama has a pass success rate ranking #7 in the country, a rush success rate ranking #2 in the country, and an overall offensive success rate of #5 in the country. Tennessee has an improving defense, but don’t expect it to do a whole lot of stopping the Alabama offense.

The only area that Tennessee’s defense even comes close to the Tide’s offense is in redzone TD %, and, quite honestly, it’s not all that likely Alabama even needs to be in the redzone to score in the first place.

Alabama will throw the ball all over the field and will probably score at will. The improving Alabama run game will run the ball for over 150 yards as they did last week. Alabama is a 5-touchdown favorite and ESPN’s football power index gives the Crimson Tide a 97.4% chance of defeating the Vols.