No. 11 Alabama (6-1, 4-0 SEC) and No. 17 Tennessee (5-1, 2-1 SEC) will meet head-to-head on the gridiron for the 106th time Saturday in a rivalry game known as the "Third Saturday in October."
The Crimson Tide lead the series 59-38-8, including nine straight wins inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Last year's game was a high-scoring thriller, with Tennessee kicking a last-second field goal to end Alabama's 15-game win streak over the Vols. This year's game should be a more physical, low-scoring game with a more vintage feel of the Alabama vs. Tennessee rivalry.
Here are a few things to watch for this Third Saturday in October.
Home Field Advantage
Tennessee has struggled on the road in this series, having not won a game in Tuscaloosa since 2003. More importantly, Tennessee has had trouble recently with loud environments causing false start penalties. In a mid-afternoon time slot against a rival, Alabama fans should be able to stay electric, disrupting the away team's communication and causing pre-snap penalties.
Protecting Jalen Milroe Against the Tennessee Pass Rush
How well Alabama protects Jalen Milroe will determine if Alabama can throw the ball downfield. Alabama has given up the fourth-most sacks in the nation so far this year. On the other side of the ball, Tennessee is fourth in the nation with 24 sacks, averaging four sacks per game.
Slowing Down the Tennessee Run Game
Tennessee's passing attack is nothing like the high-scoring offense it was last year. That being said, the Vols have turned to a running game that has been very effective this season. Jaylen Wright is leading the way in the run game for the Vols. Wright is fourth in the SEC in rushing yards, averaging just over seven yards per rushing attempt. Alabama has a top-10 rushing defense, successfully stopping two good rushing teams in Texas and Ole Miss. Stopping the Tennessee rushing attack and forcing the Vols to throw the ball will be a key to victory.
Both teams are heavily penalized teams, but Tennessee is actually worse. The Vols are averaging nine penalties a game. Alabama is not much better but has been better than last season, averaging seven penalties per game. Last season at Tennessee, Alabama had 17 flags thrown for 130 yards. Alabama can not have a repeat of last year if they want to win the game. The team that shoots themselves in the foot the least will be in the driver's seat to light up a victory cigar on Saturday.
Last year, field position didn't matter. Both offenses marched down the field regardless of where they started with the ball, resulting in a total of 101 points scored. With two top-ranked defenses and two inconsistent offenses, it would be a surprise if the teams combined for 50 points on Saturday. That being said, field position will be key, and Alabama has one of the best punters in the nation, James Burnip, to give them that advantage. As long as the Crimson Tide protect the football, they should be able to control the field position battle.
Alabama will look to start a new winning streak over the Vols as the Crimson Tide host Tennessee at 2:30 p.m. in Bryant-Denny Stadium this Saturday. The game will air on CBS.
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