Alabama opened as a 34-point favorite over Tennessee. In comparison, Alabama was a 19-point favorite over the other SEC program in the state of Tennessee, Vanderbilt. It is the largest line in the series’ history.
UA coach Nick Saban got animated when asked in a roundabout way if a series needs to be competitive to be a true rivalry. To Saban’s ears, it was more rat poison from the media, a way of disrespecting the opponent.
Still, the fact remains that Alabama has defeated Tennessee in 10 straight games. In those games, the average margin of victory is nearly 23 points.
Saban is correct, though, that there is no continuum for success. That’s why he bristled at the question Monday.
“I think players get up for games because of the competition and maybe because of the games they’ve had with them in the past,” he said. “I think when you have rivalry games that have tradition associated with them for many, many years, that there’s a different kind of motivation in those kinds of games. But I also think that the two games we’ve had here lately, the same kind of situation, their team is pretty much a .500 team and we’re pretty much where we are and we struggled to beat them.
“I think you all, like always, you’re always looking for all these assumptions because they have issues, they have problems some kind of way. Why can’t that be a motivating factor for them and they play their best game of the year? Y’all ever think about that? Or just … so you can look at the glass half empty or half full … not to get to the Coke bottle.”
The current crop of Alabama players has never lost to Tennessee, and the majority of them hailing from out of state didn’t grow up thinking of the Third Saturday in October as a major rivalry. A freshman or sophomore on UA’s roster was in grade school the last time the Volunteers won a game in the series.
But once indoctrinated into the program, they learn the significance.
“This is a huge game for us,” sophomore running back Damien Harris said. “… A game like this, a huge rivalry game, it means just a little bit more. So, we’re definitely going to be on our p’s and q’s. We look to have a good week of practice and a good week of preparation.”
But does he consider Tennessee a rival?
“Doesn’t everybody?” Harris asked. “I mean everybody that’s affiliated with this program, of course. I would think so, yes.”
Senior Shaun Dion Hamilton gets ready for the game by singing “Rocky Top” to himself.
“I was already thinking about them when I was running off the field (after Arkansas game),” Hamilton said. “I was singing their fight song. That’s all I was talking about, it was Rocky Top Week. It definitely lights a match up in the room. You know you have to go a little bit harder in practice this week.”
Hamilton said he knows all the words to the Tennessee fight song.
“A lot of my teammates do, also,” he said. “We always sing it. So it’s going to be a pretty fun week.”
Sacks are back
Alabama has rocketed up the rankings in sacks of late. That’s because 14 of the team’s 19 sacks, which ranks as tied for third in the conference with Auburn, have come in the last three weeks.
Asked why the inside linebackers are totaling more sacks than their outside linebacker counterparts, Hamilton joked it was due to politics.
“Probably because the defensive coordinator is our position coach, so he puts us in position to make plays more than them,” Hamilton said jokingly.
For the second time in Jonah Williams’ still-young career, the sophomore offensive lineman has been named the SEC’s Offensive Lineman of the Week, the conference announced Monday.
Williams graded out at 92 percent in helping the Crimson Tide to 308 yards on the ground against Arkansas. He did not miss an assignment and made four knockdown blocks while not allowing a sack or a quarterback hurry.
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.