Tennessee was a confident team before they beat Alabama last season. Some might have even thought too confident. However, the Vols proved the cynics wrong in one of the most memorable wins in UT football history.
That confidence carries on – in more than one way. Sure, the Vols believe they can go to any college campus and win a football game, but the way the Alabama game ended in 2022 should give the Vols even more confidence if they find themselves in a close contest towards the end of the game, and that’s exactly what most analysts expect with the Vols and Tide tangle on Saturday. The Vols are fine playing a close game with Bama thanks, in part, to last season.
“Just the way that everything unfolded,” Warren recalled about the Neyland Stadium showdown that ended in a last-second field goal and a 52-49 win for the Vols. “The execution down to the line, not much time left on the clock, and we’ve got pretty much a full field to drive. You’ve got to execute perfectly.”
Last year’s UT-Bama game was a high-scoring affair. This season may be much different. With both teams finding their way with a new quarterback at the helm, that won’t likely be the case in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Tennessee’s big passing plays last season have been replaced by shorter screen passes and an offense that relies on a stout running game.
“You’ve just got to find ways to win,” Warren said during The Vol Report. “I think that’s always going to be their biggest thing is they don’t care how we’re doing it. They don’t care. You know who’s getting the ball? They don’t care. You know who’s running the ball? They don’t care who’s on the offensive line. That’s not how it is. It’s truly just we’re just going to try to figure out how to win the game. And that’s really cool. Like that’s how it should be, right?”
Certainly. And the Vols are doing that. Despite the angst surrounding Tennessee’s offense this season, the Vols have only lost one game and could have easily won against Florida had preseason All-SEC center Cooper Mays not been sidelined with an injury.
Now, the Vols face another familiar foe with Alabama lurking. Tennessee will play in Bryant-Denney Stadium on Saturday at 3:30. The names have changed, but the Crimson Tide still has plenty of players to man its defense, which allows just 187 yards per game passing and is third best in the SEC.
“Just because of the brand that Alabama has built and their track record for winning games,” Warren said when asked what makes Alabama’s defense so good year in and year out. “They’re going to get really good players and they’re going to get good recruits.”
Tennessee finds itself in somewhat of an Alabama-like place on defense this season. The Vols’ highly regarded front seven doesn’t have to be tricky to stop opposing offenses. Tennessee has raised its talent level to straight up win one-on-one battles. Alabama has changed defensive coordinators from last season, from Pete Golding to Kevin Steele. However, Bama head coach Nick Saban will surely always have a say in the matter.
“There’s some different tweaks and stuff, different things that, you know, I think based on just personnel that they have and the strengths of the guys that they have, we’ll do some different things,” Warren said. “But I mean, you look at it and it’s been the same, not exactly the same, but it’s been a similar style of defense for a really long time.”
Bama gave up trying to trick offenses long ago.
“That’s accurate,” Warren said. That’s fair to say is they they line up in what they line up in and they say ‘Look, you try to be successful against it. We have better athletes than you. We’re better trained than you. We’re strong.’
“That’s kind of the narrative that they push and you know they are successful, right? They do a great job. And they they play a scheme that fits their guys pretty well. And it’s just a matter, again, like I said, making tweaks and making little things that give you the advantage in specific things that you know you’re going to get from them.”
There’s no questioning that the Vols have the confidence to make the tweaks they believe are necessary to beat the Crimson Tide. Doing so is a different matter.