#9 Tennessee (5-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) has made a habit of falling behind by wide margins, only to come roaring back. So if #1 Alabama jumps ahead early on, do not change the channel. They were losing 17-7 on the road at Georgia and came back to win the game, 34-31, on a Hail Mary pass as the clock hit zero. Down by 21 points in the second quarter against Florida, they wound up winning 38-28. Virginia Tech swore they had the Vols on the ropes when they were up early by two touchdowns, only to lose 45-24. And Appalachian State thought the same, up 13-0, only to see Tennessee pull out a 20-13 overtime win.
And they were par for the course again in last week’s thrilling 45-38 loss to Texas A&M on the road, scoring three touchdowns at the end of the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime.
Alabama (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) has won the last nine of these meetings in what is always one of the great Southern rivalries.
“We can’t relax in games, we can’t have lapses in the game,” Bama coach Nick Saban told the media this week. “We always talk about ‘no scoreboard, keep playing.’ When you relax, you let the momentum of the game change, and that’s hard to get back.”
Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs was his usual exceptional self last week, throwing for 398 yards and a touchdown, while junior running back Alvin Kamara, who more than made up for the absence of his star backfield mate Jalen Hurd, was a beast. Kamara rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns on only 18 attempts, in addition to catching eight passes for 161 receiving yards and another score.
This one could be a potential preview of the SEC Championship Game. For the first time since 1999, both teams walk into this game ranked in the Top 10. Aside from their 46-43 win over Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide have won all of their other games by 19 points or more.
In order to have a realistic chance of being successful against this Bama defense, you have to have an exceptional quarterback. Dobbs fits the bill.
Thus far, he’s passed for 1,433 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for 324 and five more scores. Saban’s defense chin-checked Dobbs last year, and I’m sure he’ll be motivated to produce some better results this time around. If he can duplicate the gem he tossed against the Aggies last week while accounting for 455 total yards, The Vols could be in business.
Despite featuring a spread offense, Alabama still pounds opposing defenses with their running game. Instead of one feature back carrying the load, they spread the wealth among sensational true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and running backs Damien Harris, Joshua Jacobs and Bo Scarbrough.
Texas A&M ran through the Volunteer defense like a bad case of diarrhea last week. If they let Alabama do the same, they’ll be in for a long day. Their D is dealing with a lot of injuries, so gifted defensive end Derek Barnett will need to have a monster game.
Running against Alabama is never easy, but Hurd is expected to return after sitting out last week’s game with a concussion. If he, Dobbs and Kamara can find some open lanes, we’ll be looking at a thriller.
Other heavyweight matchups on the weekend slate include:
#2 Ohio State vs #8 Wisconsin: The Badgers should be well rested after a week off. Their last game was a seven-point loss to Michigan in a classic Big Ten slug fest.
The Buckeyes, who’ve been putting up numbers like Antonio Cromartie’s child support payments, looked merely mortal in last week’s 38-17 win over Indiana. Defensively, Wisconsin is very good and should provide a stern test for Ohio State’s explosive offense.
#12 Ole Miss vs #22 Arkansas: The Razorbacks have won the last two meetings, and last year’s 53-52 overtime barn-burner was bananas. Rebels QB Chad Kelly is the truth. He threw for 368 yards and rushed for and additional 110 against the Hogs last season. This year, he’s averaging 319 yards a game through the air.
Kelly’s got the best arm in college football. Arkansas’ young signal caller Austin Allen is as tough as they come. He’s completing 64% percent of his passes and averaging 272 yards a game through the air.