I’m not going to say the Tennessee Vols can’t beat the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday in Knoxville — anything can happen in sports — but I’ll be completely shocked if UT pulls off the upset.
Based on what we’ve seen from both teams this season, there’s absolutely no reason for Vol fans to have much hope against Alabama.
After all, this is a Tennessee team that just got beat at home by Kentucky by 27. Why would anyone in their right mind expect the Vols to beat Bama on Saturday?
But even without a win against the Crimson Tide this weekend, it’s still possible for fans to leave the game feeling better about Tennessee this season.
Obviously, keeping the game close is the biggest thing the Vols can do to give fans some hope. But I think there are three specific things Tennessee needs to do to keep the game close and give fans a good feeling moving forward.
First off is quarterback play. I think we all know by now that Jarrett Guarantano is never going to improve beyond what we’ve seen. He is what he is at this point.
It’s time for true freshman Harrison Bailey to get his shot. Tennessee is four games into the season and Bailey has been getting more reps recently at practice. There’s no reason to delay his starting debut — Bailey is the future of the program.
Now, I know there’s some debate about Bailey making his starting debut against one of the best teams in the country. However, it’s important to remember that Alabama’s defense hasn’t been that great this season (No. 37 scoring defense in the nation). Kentucky’s defense has actually been better than Alabama’s defense so far this season (No. 15 scoring defense in the nation), so starting against the Tide might not be a bad idea for Bailey.
If Bailey gets the start, plays well, and shows some flashes of greatness, it would give fans a reason to be excited for the rest of the season (and 2021). This season doesn’t count toward eligibility — Tennessee might as well get Bailey as many reps as possible against SEC competition.
The two other things the Vols need to do to give fans some hope have to do with the defensive side of the ball.
We need to see some immediate improvement from the defensive line. Pruitt fired defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh last week after the loss against Kentucky. If the defensive line plays much better this week, it will vindicate Pruitt’s decision to move on from Brumbaugh after just four games.
Lastly, we need to see better pass coverage in the middle of the field. Tennessee has been getting destroyed on intermediate routes over the middle of the field. The coverage from the linebackers has been less than desirable. It’s a major issue and it needs to be fixed. If the Vols can show some improvement against one of the best offenses in the nation, it will at least show fans that the defense is getting better this season. And that’s important.
Tennessee isn’t going to be able to keep up with Alabama’s offense. But they can at least show some improvement this year. The season is far from over. The Vols can still salvage what’s left of 2020 and leave fans with a good feeling heading into 2021.
Featured image via Tennessee Athletic Communications