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Tennessee’s running attack will be tested with tough Bama defensive front

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Welcome to Alabama week, Tennessee fans. As you recall, last year’s game was an offensive shootout that the Vols won 52-49. The Crimson Tide and Tennessee were top ten teams when they faced off in 2022. Not so in 2023. 

The Crimson Tide are ranked No. 11 while the Vols are No. 17. Both teams are working with different starting quarterbacks in Joe Milton III and Jalen Milroe. Tennessee isn’t putting up massive offensive numbers this year as they did in 2022, but, really, neither is Alabama.  

Does this level the playing field for the Vols or both teams? Can the Vols win relying heavily on their strong run game? Is the Crimson Tide’s defense still something to be feared? On this week’s Vol Report, TE Jacob Warren discusses all things Alabama. 

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Besides their starting quarterback, what else has changed this season for Alabama? A new defensive coordinator for one – Kevin Steele has replaced Pete Golding. But don’t expect to see any major alterations to the Tide’s defense. “There’s some different tweaks,” Warren noted. “It’s been a similar style of defense for a long time. They recruit similar style players and their coaches have been at Alabama or have been with (coach) Nick Saban and have learned the system.” 

When it comes to Alabama’s defense, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Warren has witnessed this throughout his collegiate career. 

“We have better athletes than you. We’re better trained than you. We’re strong,” said Warren of Alabama. “That’s the narrative they push and they are successful. They do a great job. They play a scheme that fits their guys pretty well.” 

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Without the heavy pass game of yore, can Tennessee beat Alabama on the ground? The season’s stats thus far seem to favor the Vols. Tennessee currently ranks No. 6 in the nation in rushing yards per game (231) and No. 5 in average yards per run (5.8). Don’t forget about Alabama, though – they’re No. 2 in rushing defense in terms of yards per carry at three yards a touch. Is the winner of this game the team that best runs the ball?

Yes and no. 

“It’s about controlling the line of scrimmage,” Warren said. “That’s what it comes down to, being able to handle your one-on-ones and steal double teams when you have the correct leverage, have good feet and move people right. Create space. I think the biggest thing is just having space.”

“That will be the story of every single game that we have this year,” continued Warren, “’Did they control line of scrimmage?’ If we did, you have a chance of a win as long as everybody else is doing what they’re supposed to be doing. That’ll definitely be the determining factor in this one.”

On Saturday, all eyes will be on this meeting of SEC rivals. Don’t expect a high-scoring affair like last year. Expect some old-school style football. It will be interesting to see if indeed the run is what decides the outcome of this game, the tradition-laden rivalry that occurs on the Third Saturday in October.

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