Battle in trenches will decide Tennessee’s fate against rival Alabama

Tennessee wants to bounce back following its road loss to Texas A&M, but Alabama’s defense will give the Vols all they can handle.

#11 Joshua Dobbs carries the ball forward in front of #75 Jashon Robertson during Tennessee's game against Ohio on Sept. 16, 2016. Photo by Sumner GIlliam.

As with all Alabama opponents, Tennessee’s offensive line will need to provide constant protection against the Tide’s talented defensive line in order to give the Vols a chance to win.

When Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs is comfortable playing to his style, the Vols can score on anybody. Saturday’s game has an emphasis on Dobbs’ running ability to open up the passing game.

Alabama contained Dobbs in last year’s meeting, as he managed 16 carries for an unimpressive 19 yards.

Tennessee is sixth in the SEC in points per game, so don’t expect a high-scoring shootout. More time in the pocket for Dobbs to throw the ball will lessen the mistakes from the Vols.

Offensive linemen Chance Hall and Jack Jones made their first career starts last year against the Crimson Tide. It’s time for the duo to show the Crimson Tide what they have learned over the past year. Last year, Hall garnered All-SEC Freshman honors, but missed the first three games of the 2016 season due to injury.

Now that the rust has been knocked off, Hall can lead the way for Tennessee running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Tennessee’s biggest rushing games have occurred while Hall was on the field.

The Volunteers only average 192 yards per game on the ground (50th in the country), yet Alvin Kamara set a UT record of 312 all-purpose yards last week. If Butch Jones can find ways to get the ball to Kamara early and often, ‘Bama will be on its heels.

Even after all of this, the Vols have to contain Alabama’s defensive line to avoid turnovers.

Tennessee turned the ball over seven times against Texas A&M. A repeat performance could land the Vols in a situation where late-game miracles are a distant memory. Alabama has the best scoring defense in the nation thanks to a ball-hawking secondary, led by defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Things get much tougher for Tennessee when considering Alabama has the best rushing defense in the nation, holding opponents to a stifling 2.2 yards per carry. Turnovers are bad, but three-and-outs are just as bad against a powerhouse, and the Crimson Tide have forced 40 of them halfway into the season. The defensive line, led by senior defensive end Jonathan Allen, has potential to force Dobbs to cough up the football. Allen has four sacks on the season and is fifth all-time in sacks for the Crimson Tide.

If Dobbs holds on to the football too long at the wrong time, the Volunteers might have bigger issues at hand.

Edited by Nathan Odom

Featured image by Sumner Gilliam