Tide Dominates Fourth Saturday In October
By Brett Beaird
The opponents change, but the story stays the same. Alabama (8-0, 5-0) won, 45-10, on Saturday and has dominated seven of its eight opponents this season.
Tennessee (4-4, 1-3) came into Tuscaloosa with a lot of momentum after nearly beating Georgia (34-31) and upsetting South Carolina (23-21). How would Landon Collins play in his new role as starting safety replacing Vinnie Sunseri? Would the Tennessee passing game attack first-time starter Cyrus Jones?
Questions And Answers
How much of a rivalry exists now between Alabama and Tennessee?
Coach Paul Bryant used the “Third Saturday In October” as a measuring stick for his teams from 1958-82. Since 1995, the game has been played on the third Saturday only six times. This rivalry has been a series of streaks for many years. Bryant teams won 11 consecutive games until a Johnny Majors-coached team ended the streak in 1982 in Knoxville during Bryant’s final season. Lead by Phil Fulmer, Tennessee won seven consecutive years from 1995-2001. The Tide also had a nine game streak from 1986-94. Nick Saban has continued a streak that now has reached seven consecutive games.
Since Terrence Cody's two blocked field goals allowed Alabama to escape with a win in 2009, the Crimson Tide has won by no fewer than 31 points against one of its top rivals. In the last seven meetings, Alabama outscored the Vols, 249-75. Saturday’s 45-10 win was the largest margin of victory in 50 years (1963).
Volunteers coach Butch Jones and a few Tennessee players intensified the annual “war of words” earlier in the week referring to Alabama as the ‘red team.' Several Alabama players, including quarterback AJ McCarron, took exception to the reference. How smart was it for a first-year SEC coach to provide "bulletin-board material" for a two-time defending BCS national championship team?
Would the veteran Tennessee offensive line test the Tide front seven?
Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, Alex Bullard, James Stone, Zach Fulton and Ja'Wuan James make up one of the best offensive lines in the country. It’s also ironic that Richardson, Stone and James mentioned Alabama as a finalist in the recruiting sweepstakes. Running back Rajion Neal came into Saturday averaging 99.4 yards per game. Neal led the Vols with 70 yards on 13 carries. The majority of his production came on a 43-yard run on the first play of the second half. The Tide contained the Tennessee running game, holding the Volunteers to 127 yards rushing on 26 carries.
The Crimson Tide front seven still struggle to gain sacks. Volunteers quarterback Justin Worley never will be mistaken for Cam Newton, but the Tide front seven never could sack the quarterback with multiple attempts. The defense knocked out Worley early in the second half and contained true freshman Joshua Dobbs.
The Tide accomplished the defensive effort without starting nose guard Brandon Ivory. Saban indicated after the game that Ivory did not play because of “medical issues." Darren Lake filled in for Ivory and did not make a tackle, but received a lot of praise for plugging the middle. Freshman phenom A’Shawn Robinson got his first start on the defensive line and along with Collins led the team in tackles. The Vols could not establish long, time-consuming drives because they were 3 of 12 on third down.
Alabama has given up just 26 points in the last six games. Tennessee became the first team since Texas A&M to gain more than 300 yards on the Tide, picking up 323 yards (195 passing and 127 rushing).
Could Landon Collins do a competent job of replacing Vinnie Sunseri at safety?
A playmaker replaced a playmaker at strong safety. Sunseri returned two interceptions this season for touchdowns. Not to be outdone, Collins returned the favor. Collins got turned around in coverage and surrendered a 43-yard reception to Tennessee just before halftime. However, on the next play, Worley threw the ball in tight coverage to MarQuez North, but Collins stepped in front of the throw at the Tide 11-yard line, intercepted the ball and followed a convoy of blockers 89-yards for the Tide’s sixth non-offensive touchdown of the season. He is now second on the team to CJ Mosley with 34 tackles and five pass breakups. Collins credited film study and familiarity with the pass route for making the play.
Would Tennessee attack new starting cornerback Cyrus Jones?
Cyrus Jones became the fourth different cornerback to start opposite Deion Belue. Jones replaced Bradley Sylve, who did not practice last week because of an ankle injury. Eddie Jackson backed up Jones and should see more playing time against LSU. Jones had two nice pass breakups, but the bye week should allow Saban and Smart to mix and match the secondary, for which LSU will be the ultimate test. The Tigers have two of the best wide receivers in the SEC with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.
How many ways can Alabama get the ball to Christion Jones?
Jones averaged 53 yards on two kickoff returns and came within one tackle of breaking both runs for touchdowns. Jones now leads in the nation in kickoff returns with 425 yards and a sparkling 32.7 per return. He had a dazzling 20-yard reverse, taking a pitch from Yeldon, running to the right, stopping, reversing field and outrunning practically the entire Volunteers defense before finally being tackled.
On the season, Jones has 17 punt returns for 206 yards and one touchdown. He leads the Tide in receiving with 27 catches for 281 yards (10.4 ypc) and two touchdowns. He also leads the team with 118.2 all-purpose yards per game. If Jones had 10 touches per game, he might be leading the nation in all-purpose yards.
On To November...
October was a good month for Alabama. The Tide outscored its four opponents — Georgia State, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee — 190-20. Until Tennessee kicked a third-quarter field goal, Alabama had scored 104 unanswered points — the fifth-largest streak in program history. In the last five games, the Tide has outgained its opposition by a staggering 1,521 yards. Since its 49-42 victory at Texas A&M, Alabama has outscored the competition 246-26. Considering a surplus of injuries and suspensions to key players, the October domination has been even more impressive.
But the competition gets tougher in November. Alabama’s opponents next month (LSU, Miss. State, Tennessee Chattanooga and Auburn) have a combined record of 28-12.
Up next: After a bye week, vs. LSU (Bryant Denny Stadium, Nov. 9, 7 p.m. CT on CBS)