Alabama has dominated Tennessee in recent years, but the third Saturday in October continues to be one of the Crimson Tide’s most important games. This year, along with the passion and hostility that is always present, there is a new component of familiarity.

Now at the helm for Tennessee is Jeremy Pruitt, who served a one-year stint as Alabama’s defensive coordinator last season. An Alabama graduate, Pruitt also worked as a defensive assistant for the Crimson Tide from 2007-12.

The Tennessee program that Pruitt inherited is recovering from a 4-8 finish last season. A rebuilding project was in order. And for the most part, that’s been case.

However, a big win at Auburn last week has injected Tennessee with a newfound spirit of optimism.

UA coach Nick Saban and his players know the improvement Tennessee has made through six games is a testament to the values Pruitt has instilled.

“I think he’s doing an outstanding job,” Saban said. “If you just look at the team’s improvement to the beginning to now, it’s really pretty phenomenal. The team plays with great discipline, lots of toughness, give great effort, all the intangible things that you have the chance to affect as a coach.”

Alabama inside linebacker Mack Wilson built a strong relationship with Pruitt and refers to him as a “father figure.” Wilson has taken note of the impact Pruitt has already made in Knoxville.

“He changed a lot about their program from what he learned from here, obviously,” Wilson said. “I can tell he brought the winning attitude to Tennessee with how those guys respond to adversity and from them losing and stuff like that. I’m very impressed with how he has those guys rolling right now.”