How Can Tennessee Pull the Upset Over Alabama?
The match-up known as Third Saturday in October is nearing us, but it's worth noting that over the past few years, it has lost its luster. Alabama has won eight straight, but is there a way for Tennessee to turn the tide and get the rivalry back on their side?
We all know that this rivalry is a streaky rivalry: Alabama will win seven or eight in a row, then Tennessee will rally off four or five straight themselves.
From the rivalry's inception in 1901 (a tie) to 1970, it was as even as it could be, with both Alabama and Tennessee winning 23 of the 53 games each, and seven of them ended in a tie. The streaks existed during this time, too, as Alabama would win four or five in a row then Tennessee would do the same.
However, starting in 1971, Alabama began to take control of the rivalry. In the 11 games from 1971 to 1981, Alabama didn't lose a single game, but when Tennessee won in 1982, they rallied off four in a row until 1985.
The next streak began in 1986 with Alabama winning seven in a row before the two teams tied in 1993, and the Tide won again in 1994 (so if you're one who doesn't believe in ties, then I guess Alabama won eight in a row).
Then Tennessee, in 1995, began their own seven game winning streak, all the way until 2001. Bama then won the 2002 meeting, an odd "random" win, but then the Vols rallied off three in a row from 2003-2006 (technically, Alabama won the 2005 meeting, but it was later taken away due to NCAA violations).
Since then, however, the Tide have yet to lose to the Volunteers, and they are favored yet again over the boys from Knoxville this year, with Alabama opening up in Las Vegas as a 14.5 point favorite. What can the Volunteers do to pull the upset?
In short, if Alabama gets locked inside their locker room before the game, that could be the only way. This Vols team is arguably their most talented one since winning the SEC East in 2007 (ironically, the first year of the current Alabama streak), but they're still young, and have dropped some heartbreaking losses so far this season (e.g. Florida).
With such a young team, it's hard to teach them how to win games without some losses sprinkled throughout, but if a team is going to upset a heavy favorite, they need a top tier quarterback, and Tennessee does have that working for them.
Joshua Dobbs came onto the scene last season when he hopped into the fire against the Crimson Tide in an already lopsided game, although he was able to bring them back and make the game somewhat respectable.
He's a mobile threat, which is a concern for any Nick Saban/Kirby Smart defense (if you aren't convinced of that, ask Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton, Ohio State, Tim Tebow, and Brian Johnson about it). If he's able to get outside the pocket and put the Alabama secondary in precarious situations, the Vols could keep it close.
But that is much easier said than done with this "hybrid" Alabama defense. Alabama's front seven have played at an incredibly high level over the past three games, and the leader of the defense, Reggie Ragland, has shown why he's one of the best players in the country. If he's able to get the rest of the defense to buy into containing Dobbs, it's going to be a long day for the Volunteer offense.
All in all, if the two teams play like they have throughout the course of the season, the Tide will make it nine in a row, continuing the second longest streak in the storied rivalry.