By Tommy Deas
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is progressing, but Alabama is on another level. The Crimson Tide leads the nation in scoring at better than 53 points per game. Tua Tagovailoa gets most of the spotlight, but an offensive line led by Jonah Williams is coming together.
The Crimson Tide defense is making strides under first-year coordinator Tosh Lupoi. Alabama has 12 interceptions and is allowing 15.1 points per game. Tennessee has a hard-nosed unit that is getting better every week, but doesn’t have the athletes that UA has.
Alabama has a strong return game on both punts and kickoffs but has been shaky on placekicking and ranks dead last in the SEC in punting average. Tennessee hasn’t show much on returns but has blocked a couple of kicks and has a solid punter.
The Volunteers had a tortuous coaching search before settling on former Alabama player and assistant Jeremy Pruitt, who was one of the hottest young assistants in the country. Pruitt learned under the best: Alabama’s Nick Saban is the old standard in collegiate coaching.
The Crimson Tide is going for its 12th straight win in the series, which would give it the longest winning streak in the history of the rivalry. Alabama has dominated, winning by 25 points per game since 2010. That momentum should carry to Neyland Stadium again.
Alabama 42, Tennessee 10
Even a team as good as this edition of the Crimson Tide can’t top 50 points every time out. Tennessee will try to hang tough but just doesn’t have the firepower on offense or the athletes on defense to keep pace. Alabama will cruise to victory.
Alabama 56, Tennessee 10
Alabama wins its 12th straight over Tennessee. The Vols will have to play a nearly perfect game to keep up with Bama and stop things from getting ugly, but it still won’t be enough to get the win.
Alabama 27, Tennessee 0
No one really plays games like this anymore with gnarly fullbacks smashing into defensive lines made up of three ogres and a troll. But if it pours down a cold, chilly rain like it did on 1980, that’s the score I will go with. Just call it Alabama -27 if you prefer.
Alabama 48, Tennessee 14
No drama here, but also not the eye-popping numbers Alabama has put up in some earlier games. Tennessee has improved but not enough to hang with the Tide. Alabama heads to its off week still looking for the perfect game.
Alabama 38, Tennessee 17
Tennessee is evolving, so the Crimson Tide has to be cautious and not have too many mistakes that the Vols can capitalize on.
Alabama 45, Tennessee 17
The current group of Alabama players are too young to remember when Tennessee was lowdown, dirty and a bunch of snitches. However, the long-time Alabama fans will always remember. Light them if you got them.
Alabama 56, Tennessee 13
The Crimson Tide will waltz into Knoxville and demolish any momentum Tennessee built with its upset victory over Auburn last week. Butch Jones will get a chance to smoke a cigar.
Alabama 42, Tennessee 10
The Crimson Tide should do everything it can to put this game away early and rest the starters. They are going to need to be as healthy as possible for the Nov. 3 clash with LSU in Baton Rouge.
Alabama 48, Tennessee 17
Tennessee will be flying high after its win against Auburn and it’ll get a couple scores in. But no way does Alabama lose this one, nor will it come close. Nick Saban doesn’t care about defeating former assistant coaches. Sorry, Jeremy Pruitt.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
By Ben Stansell
Isaiah Buggs, Sr./DL, 6-5/286
Key Stat: Has a team-high 7.5 sacks through first seven games
Buzz: After transferring to Alabama before the 2017 season, Buggs made an immediate impact last year. He’s stepped into an even bigger role this season. Not only has Buggs displayed a knack for bringing down opposing quarterbacks, he’s forced two fumbles as well. Buggs will look to force Jarrett Guarantano to make costly mistakes Saturday.
Tyrell Shavers, R-Fr./WR, 6-6/216
Key Stat: Caught seven touchdowns during his senior year of high school
Buzz: Shavers redshirted his first year on campus and has seen limited game time in 2018. However, Shavers has generated buzz since he came to Tuscaloosa as a four-star, largely because of his tremendous size and potential. With DeVonta Smith potentially sidelined due to injury, Shavers could see more snaps against Tennessee and may even make his first reception.
Jared Mayden, Jr./DB, 6-0/197
Key Stat: Made a season-high three tackles against Louisiana-Lafayette
Buzz: As a result of starting cornerback Trevon Diggs being out indefinitely with a broken foot, Mayden was relied on more than usual against Missouri, especially in dime packages. He’s been around Alabama’s program for several years, and will use that knowledge and experience to help the Crimson Tide’s secondary continue to be one of the best in the SEC.
Jarrett Guarantano, R-Soph./QB, 6-4/209
Key Stat: Threw for a career-best 328 yards in a win against Auburn last Saturday
Buzz: Last year against Alabama, Guarantano finished 9 of 16 for 44 yards and an interception. It was one of several tough outings for the quarterback. Things have turned around for Guarantano this season. He’s completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,129 yards. While his touchdown to interception ratio (4/3) isn’t great, he’s continued to show improvement with each game.
Marquez Callaway, Jr./WR, 6-2/200
Key Stat: Led Tennessee with five touchdowns last season
Buzz: Callaway has been Guarantano’s favorite target, having hauled in a team-high 18 catches for 286 yards. A big-bodied receiver, Callaway has shown the ability the go up and make big plays over defensive backs. Callaway is already on pace to surpass his production from 2017, and is one of Tennessee’s leaders on offense.
Kyle Phillips, Sr./DL, 6-4/273
Key Stat: Leads the Volunteers with three sacks this season
Buzz: Besides pacing Tennessee in sacks, Phillips has made 25 tackles. He’s also forced and recovered a fumble, proving his ability to make big plays on defense. He logged a career-best 9 tackles in Tennessee’s upset win over Auburn last Saturday, earning him SEC defensive lineman of the week honors.