The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The seventh-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide continue their run through the SEC, when they travel to Knoxville this weekend for a showdown with the Tennessee Volunteers.
The defending national champions got back in the win column following their only loss of the season, topping Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa last weekend, 23-10. With the victory, Nick Saban's squad moved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in- conference.
It has not been a successful start to the Derek Dooley era at Tennessee. His Volunteers have struggled to a 2-4 record and are buried at 0-3 in SEC play. The team has dropped two straight contests and was last in action on October 9th, a 41-14 rout at the hands of Georgia in Athens.
Dooley realizes what kind of team is coming to town this week.
"Well, it's going to be a real - and I'm going to tell the team this -- what a great honor it's going to be able to play in games like these. Growing up, you always know about the Third Saturday in October. We screwed that up when we added more teams. But this is always one of the great traditions in college football, Tennessee-Alabama. It's what makes this place special. It's what makes the SEC special. So it's going to be a great opportunity for our players and a good responsibility on how we compete going against a phenomenal football team that's been kind of a standard in college football the last two years. Deep, talented, well-coached. We all know about them."
The Crimson Tide hold a 46-38-7 advantage in the all-time series with the Volunteers and have won three straight in the series, including the memorable 12-10 affair last year in Tuscaloosa, when Alabama used two blocked field goals, one as time expired, to preserve the victory.
When at its best, Alabama mixes the run and the pass successfully. Everything is built off a strong ground game though, one that is averaging a hefty 183.6 yards per game on 5.2 yards per carry. It certainly helps to have a lethal one-two punch in the backfield, with both sophomore Trent Richardson (6.6 ypc, four TDs) and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (6.4 ypc, six TDs) getting the job done.
The steady ground assault has opened things up for QB Greg McElroy, who has played quite well in 2010, completing 71.6 percent of his passes, for 1,517 yards, with 11 TDs and just three INTs. Wideouts Julio Jones (33 receptions, for 448 yards, three TDs), Darius Hanks (17 receptions, for 289 yards, two TDs) and Marquis Maze (17 receptions, for 241 yards, one TD) provide McElroy with plenty of options down the field.
Hanks is particular is someone that Saban views as an under-appreciated performer.
"Darius Hanks has been a great player for us for several years now. He is very athletic and very consistent. He has certainly improved and continues to play with better and better toughness. He has great hands and if there is anything that we need to do better, it's to be able to get him the ball. We feel like he's a guy that can make plays and does a good job of running routes."
Defensively, the Crimson Tide has had its ups and downs. For the most part, the unit has been solid though, allowing just 12.9 ppg and 288.0 yards of total offense. Alabama has struggled to generate a pass rush with just eight sacks on the season, but the team has made a slew of big plays, with 15 takeaways, including 13 INTs.
All-American candidate Mark Barron highlights the play in the secondary. The 6-2 junior safety leads the team in tackles (47), with two sacks and two INTs. Sophomores Dre Kirkpatrick (35 tackles, three INTs) and Robert Lester (30 tackles, four INTs, one fumble recovery) add to the strong play in the defensive backfield. The linebacking corps is headlined by sophomore Dont'a Hightower (36 tackles), while defensive end Marcell Dareus (17 tackles, 7.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks) provides star power up front.
Dareus knows that despite Tennessee's struggles, it will be a fight this weekend in Knoxville.
"It doesn't matter what Tennessee's record is. When we come to play Tennessee they're going to bring their `A Game' every time we play them, it doesn't really matter. Alabama-Tennessee is a real big rivalry game. They play hard every time we play them, just like last year. We couldn't say anything about their record but when they come to play us they put on a fight. We really have to be prepared this year for whatever they have, whatever kind of trick plays and how hard they're going to come. We have to play hard just like they do and overcome whatever they have for us."
Inconsistency on both sides of the football has led to Tennessee's slow start in 2010. The team is averaging 23.3 ppg this year, but outside of a two-point setback at LSU to start October, the team has been blown out by other top competition. The Tennessee offense does have a budding star in tailback Tauren Poole. The 5-11 junior is averaging 5.0 yards per carry this year and is responsible for five of the team's eight rushing TDs to date.
Quarterback Matt Simms has played to mixed reviews, completing 57.1 percent of his passes, for 1,136 yards, with seven TDs and four INTs. The top target in the vertical game is WR Denarius Moore, who has 18 receptions, for 257 yards and four TDs through the first six games. Offensive line woes have killed the passing game this year, as the Vols have allowed a whopping 23 sacks thus far.
The Tennessee defense has had some real problems, allowing opponents to move the football both on the ground (153.5 ypg) and through the air (227.5 ypg). Big plays have been few and far between, with UT registering just seven sacks and 10 takeaways this year.
Linebacker Nick Reveiz has been the most active defender thus far, posting a team-high 54 tackles, with four TFLs, one INT and one fumble recovery. Defensive back Prentiss Waggner (33 tackles, two INTs) is next in line in terms of tackles. Defensive end Gerald Williams (20 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 2.5 sacks) is the player to keep an eye on along the defensive front.