Tennessee hosts No. 1 Alabama on Saturday in what will be the Vols’ second top-10 matchup in a row. For the first time in quite a while, this rivalry game has huge implications.
Both teams are the favorite to win their respective divisions in the SEC and both have hopes of making it to the College Football Playoff. The Vols’ injury woes mean that a number of backups will see significant time against the best team in the nation. Keeping the high stakes of the game and the number of injuries in mind, here are some Tennessee players to keep an eye on against Alabama.
Malik Foreman, Defensive Back
If there is one player that truly personifies this year’s Tennessee team, it’s Malik Foreman. The senior defensive back was pushed into a larger role due to star corner Cam Sutton’s ankle injury. Since taking over as the starting corner, the results have been uneven. In a span of two minutes of game time against Georgia, Foreman went from hero to goat when he had what looked like a game-sealing interception with 2:10 left, followed by falling asleep against Riley Ridley and allowing what should have been the game-winning touchdown.
He was solid last week against Texas A&M, and made a great play to stretch out and force a fumble that allowed to Vols to tie the game and bring it to overtime. His performance against Alabama and their talented receiving corps could go a long way towards deciding the outcome.
Shy Tuttle, Defensive Tackle
With the unfortunately-timed dismissal of Danny O’Brien, the Vols will be looking down the depth chart to find players than can take his place. Kahlil McKenzie was listed behind O’Brien on Tennessee’s two-deep depth chart, but fellow sophomore Shy Tuttle has played much more so far on the season.
Tuttle’s play has been even more impressive considering the severe leg injury he suffered last year, and his ability to fill the gap in the middle of the line against Alabama’s running backs will be crucial. He will get help at tackle from McKenzie, Jonathon Kongbo and perhaps even the previously-suspended Alexis Johnson, but Tuttle will likely be the one that sees the most time.
Colton Jumper, Linebacker
Last year, Colton Jumper was a much-maligned freshman linebacker that Tennessee fans would often blame for everything that went wrong on the defensive end. When he was forced into action by an injury to Darrin Kirkland, Vol fans were apprehensive at best. Despite the fans’ concerns, however, Jumper has proven that he belongs on the field.
He has directed traffic capably even with the revolving door of defensive players around him, and he’s led the team in tackles. Kirkland is expected to return this week, but will still likely be limited and may even be forced to move to an outside linebacker position with Cortez McDowell’s status still in question. Jumper will still play an important role against the Tide, whether it’s beside Kirkland, McDowell or even Elliott Berry.
Alvin Kamara, Running Back
For nearly the entirety of his career in orange and white, redshirt junior Alvin Kamara has had fans clamoring for him to touch the ball more. When Jalen Hurd was forced to miss the A&M game with an undisclosed injury, Kamara finally got his chance.
He was electric, rushing for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns and catching eight passes for 161 yards and another score. Hurd is slated to return on Saturday, but he may be limited. Besides, Kamara has proven what he can do if given the chance. His dynamic combination of explosiveness and efficiency as well as his ability to both run and catch passes should be enough to earn him plenty of touches against his former team.
Kickoff against Alabama is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
Edited by Adam Milliken
Featured image by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics