October hasn’t been kind to the Tennessee Volunteers the last two years, and it doesn’t appear to be getting any easier.
Coach Derek Dooley and his orange and white squad will have their hands full again this week as they travel to Tuscaloosa to take on Nick Saban and the second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in the annual Third Saturday in October rivalry, which dates back to 1901.
This will be the first time Tennessee (3-3, 0-3 SEC) has faced the nation’s top two teams in back-to-back weeks, after losing to No. 1 LSU 38-7 last Saturday at home.
The Vols will be looking for their first SEC victory on Saturday and to end their two-game skid and four-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0). They will also be looking for some sense of revenge after their 2009 trip to Tuscaloosa ended in a 12-10 heartbreaking defeat, as Alabama’s Terrance Cody blocked a potential game-winning 44-yard field goal attempt by UT’s Daniel Lincoln.
It will be a very tough task for the Vols considering they will be facing a Heisman Trophy candidate in junior running back Trent Richardson and one of the nation’s top defenses. Not to mention Alabama is 24-1 at home in their last 25 games at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I think that this game coming up is a game that’s really important from a tradition standpoint to the University of Alabama,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “It’s important to a lot of people around here. Rivalry games are always games that you have to be ready for.”
Through Bama’s first seven games of the season, Richardson has led a rushing attack that has averaged 241.6 yards (14th in the country) on the ground and has separated himself as one of the nation’s top backs. Richardson hasn’t missed a beat after former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram departed last season, as he has 132 carries for 912 yards to go along with 15 touchdowns.
Last week, the 5-foot-11, 224-pound bruiser back earned his second SEC Offensive Player of the Week Award after compiling a career-high 183 rushing yards and four touchdowns in Alabama’s 52-7 win over Mississippi. The 100-yard rushing performance was his sixth-straight, which is the longest current streak in the nation among active players and is tied for the longest streak in Alabama history.
Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and company will have their hands full trying to contain Richardson, who ran over them for 119 yards and two scores in a 41-10 thrashing of the Vols last year. They will also have to be aware of his counterparts, Jalston Fowler and Eddie Lacy, who have combined for 721 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this season.
The Vols will also have to find a way to get pressure on sophomore quarterback A.J. McCarron, who has thrown for 1,380 yards on 117-of-174 and nine touchdowns with just two interceptions.
“A.J.’s played well for us,” Saban said. “I think he’s improved in every game, and he’s done a really good job in managing the game.”
One word best fit to describe Alabama on the defensive side of the ball is “dominating.” The country’s No. 1 overall defense is allowing seven points a game, including two shutouts, limited opponents to 184.1 total yards per game (38.1 rushing, 146 passing), and has forced 12 turnovers. They have also been very effective in their pass rush, as they have brought down the quarterback 15 times this year, with senior linebacker Courtney Upshaw leading the team with 3.5 sacks.
Their 47 forced three-and-outs through seven games this year leads the country.
Junior linebacker and Lewisburg, Tenn., native Dont’a Hightower, Bama’s defensive captain, leads the team with 40 tackles.
“The last couple of years we played those guys, the first and second halves have come down to a big play,” Hightower said. “You can never overlook Tennessee or any SEC team regardless of their record because dealing with an SEC team you could lose any game throughout the year.”
Kickoff for the Third Saturday in October is set for 7:15 p.m. EST and will air on ESPN2.