While the Tennessee Volunteers have quickly improved to become a strong offensive team under Josh Huepel, their defense continues to hang out around the mid-range of college football defenses in terms of scoring at 23 points per game. However, against Power 5 competition, that number shoots all the way up to 30 points per game. According to DraftKings sportsbook, Alabama is currently favored by 25. This side of the ball will determine whether they are able to cover such a large spread in SEC play.
Defensive coordinator Tim Banks has been calling defenses in the league for a while now, with stints with Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Illinois, and Penn State before heading down to join Huepel at Tennessee. He runs a base 4-2-5 scheme with a Star that has some similarities to what Alabama runs under Pete Golding, though they use bigger defensive ends than the Jack/Sam linebacker hybrids that Alabama prefers.
Typically, the Vols stick with an off Cover 3 scheme intended to prevent big plays while allowing short catches and emphasizing solid open field tackling.
Linebackers Aaron Beasley and Jeremy Banks are typically tasked with making those sideline to sideline plays, and Star corner Theo Jackson is a bigger guy who’s often involved at cleaning up tackles in the shorter area of the field. On the outside, Alontae Taylor and Warren Burrell are generally responsible for defending the sidelines and are often on an island on deep balls.
The defensive line is bigger than what you typically see in modern football, with nose tackle Elijah Simmons coming in at 350 pounds, DT Matthew Butler is at 290, and both defensive ends play at 260-270. They’re a good run stuffing unit, but are fairly lacking in pass rush skills. Most of the defensive line’s sacks this season have been hustle plays and coverage sacks moreso than pass rush wins.
The two linebackers are also frequent blitzers, and Banks (the weakside linebacker) leads the team with 4.5 sacks.
The Tennessee defense runs a scheme that, in theory, is well suited to combatting modern college offenses. In practice, though, they’ve just been... okay. They can stop interior runs routinely, but often struggle with speed around the edges on off-tackle runs while the linebackers can get washed out by blockers. The secondary has done a good job of minimizing explosives, but often struggle to make the open field underneath tackles necessary when running that philosophy.
With Bill O’Brien and Bryce Young’s penchant for attacking the short and intermediate areas of the field against zones, I expect Young to have an extremely efficient game, while the Alabama run game is mostly a secondary focus in the early stages of the game. Overall, I expect Alabama to score early and often in this one, to the tune of 42-49 points.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.