I can’t remember a time in my life when a University of Tennessee football team has been a five touchdown underdog and this comes at a time when my primary-care physician tells me, “Let’s face it … you are old.” That said, even when I look at myself naked in the bathroom mirror I ain’t as ugly as what I fear will happen in Tuscaloosa this coming Saturday.
I can remember the Tide players talking about “Tennessee Week” because “the Third Saturday in October is a holy day.” That’s because when the players would hear Bear Bryant softly whistling “Love Lifted Me” before practice several were going to bleed that day. Some believe Bryant’s dislike for Tennessee was because he could never beat The General (Robert Neyland) but Brother Oliver, whose task it was to draw up the game plan for UT every year under Bryant, saw through that. “No, it’s because Tennessee plays the same brand of football Alabama does – we’re more alike than any other two teams in the conference.”
That’s not true anymore. Barring a miracle, the Crimson Tide is overwhelmingly picked to light those victory cigars for the 12th year in a row. Alabama is averaging 302.6 yards rushing per game while Tennessee’s defense against the run is giving up 242.3 per game. Another way to put it is Alabama is seventh in the country running the ball and the Vols are 123rd in the nation stopping it.
Neither team is impressive passing – Alabama doesn’t need it and Tennessee doesn’t have much luck. The thing to remember about passing the ball is that one of three things can happen and two of them aren’t good. Alabama averages 42.7 points per game and Tennessee scores half of that. Alabama is fourth in the country in total defense (254.3 yards/game) while Tennessee is 52nd yielding 372 yards/game.
I’ve got a friend who claims to have made a bundle by betting on any team that is more than a 32-point underdog. The percentages are always favorable but here’s a better rule. Never, ever, bet on Tennessee vs. Alabama. This rivalry alone has broken hearts in both camps for years.
Last year the Tide was favored by a touchdown so what made the line jumps to 34? It’s what you don’t see – the difference between Alabama’s first team and its third team on either side of the ball is miniscule. All of the Tiders are blue-chip recruits and this enables the Alabama position coaches to shuttle players in and out quicker than a Las Vegas dealer with a four-deck stack.
Tennessee seems to be leg-weary in the fourth quarters I’ve watch but Alabama players are so rested by the final whistle any one of them could donate a pint of blood. The top-shelf players at Alabama rarely play more than what amounts to three quarters of a game. Tennessee sagged in the second half against Georgia and South Carolina, which brings us to turnovers – for the year Alabama is plus-11 in take-aways while UT is minus-four in give-aways.
On third-down conversions, Tennessee is good 34.5 percentage of the time on offense and allows opponents 43 percent. Alabama converts 41.9 percent on offense and allows opponents 27.1 percent. In the red zone Alabama will score two of every three visits. Tennessee hits one of every two.
In honesty, this week’s game will not be Butch Jones’ last and, in fairness, it shouldn’t be. Nobody else is whipping Alabama but next week’s game at Kentucky could turn into a Waterloo moment, especially if Tennessee has injuries at key positions. Remember, the Wildcats have lost only once this season going into Mississippi State this Saturday.
More honesty? I think with UT 3-3 at the end of the first half of the schedule, that’s about what you are going to see the rest of the way. I’m not a doom’s day guy but a 3-3 second half is realistically what I’m thinking with an established quarterback right now. When you sag in the second half this deep in the season it’s tough to get stronger in practice.
I’d like to see Butch Jones have another year because you never fire a coach without a better one hiding behind the door. The new athletic director ain’t gonna’ have a say – UT has never worked that way – but I fret the fan base is pretty antsy and with recruits de-committing, people smarter than me may have no choice.
When being a 34-point underdog is worse than seeing me naked, I can’t think of much worse.