Alabama coach Nick Saban is facing the greatest challenge of his career this week — he has to convince his players that Tennessee is capable of beating them.
In case you haven’t heard, Alabama and Tennessee are playing on Saturday in the 100th meeting of one of college football’s most storied rivalries. But on such a monumental anniversary, has the rivalry ever been this irrelevant?
The Crimson Tide are 34-point favorites and have beaten four SEC opponents by the combined score of 193-31. Meanwhile, the Vols haven’t scored touchdown in 10 quarters.
Needless to say, Alabama is about to embarrass Tennessee on national television, and CBS is in compliance with this public execution by scheduling this game during the coveted 3:30 p.m. ET time slot.
There isn’t a word in existence that can accurately describe how badly Alabama is about to cleanse Tennessee on Saturday. In fact, the creation of this word might never come to fruition. Instead, the Vols will experience such a catastrophic defeat that their performance will be used as an adjective to describe horrific events.
I’m not trying to poke fun at Tennessee football — this is just a realistic expectation. Alabama will win on Saturday for two reasons — matchups and mindset.
Yikes, that sounds like something Butch Jones would say.
But the Crimson Tide are literally the worst matchup possible for Tennessee because all of their strengths will directly weaken the Vols’ strengths and highlight their weaknesses.
Tennessee’s biggest strength on offense is running the ball, as John Kelly is one of the SEC’s premier running backs and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has the potential to be a lethal dual-threat quarterback. Unfortunately, Alabama’s defense is a brick wall in the running game, allowing only 67 yards rushing on 2.34 YPC per game so far this season.
Offensively, Alabama is primarily a running team, ranking 7th nationally in rushing offense. Meanwhile, Tennessee ranks 122nd (out of 129) at stopping the run.
Clearly, the Vols are facing their greatest challenge of the season, which should concern fans considering Team 121 hasn’t handled challenges well. Against Georgia Tech, they were tasked with stopping the triple option — they ended up allowing a program-record 535 rushing yards. Against Georgia, they faced what was at the time the SEC’s top-rated defense — they ended scoring zero points at home.
Furthermore, Alabama doesn’t only decimate a team on the scoreboard, but it imposes a brutal level of physicality that often catapults their opponents into a season-long tailspin. The Crimson Tide ended Florida State’s College Football Playoff chances and probably eliminated Vanderbilt’s ability to properly function. Given that Guarantano is making his first career start on the road, the redshirt freshman might need to go through psychiatric treatment immediately after the game.
However, where Alabama has its biggest advantage isn’t on the field, its off the field.
On Saturday, we won’t only witness a team with superior players and coaching crush another, we’ll observe the on-field affects of two drastically differing cultures colliding. One culture sets an incredibly loft standard and is hell-bent on reaching said standard all times, even if its impossible to reach. Meanwhile, the other is lathered in excuses and glorification of mundane accomplishments.
I’ll let you guess which team is which.
The reason Alabama will embarrass Tennessee on national television on Saturday isn’t solely because of talent — it’s because Nick Saban has wired his players to act like him: Paranoid that defeat is looming around the corner.
You just don’t get the same sense from Tennessee anymore.