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The Blueprint: How UT Can Beat Alabama

Cam Sutton-1-2Editor’s note: For SEC games this season, Daniel Lewis will put together a blueprint for how Tennessee can have its best chance to knock off that week’s opponent. It’s written from a Tennessee coach’s mindset and isn’t necessarily representative of how RTI predicts the game to go.

Offense: We’re not going to be a unit that rolls up 30+ points on an elite defense. We know that by now. Our goal is to take care of the football, help our team win the field position battle and to find a way to generate a few scores.

Like last week at Ole Miss, our best chance to win this game is with a final score that stays in the teens or the low 20s. Our defense is playing well enough to do that if we can help them out. Last week we set Ole Miss up with two short fields which gave them 14 points. Take those touchdowns away and Ole Miss only scored 20 points – and seven of those came in garbage time against some of our backups.

And speaking of last week, we were closer than many people realized to breaking a big play on offense. So often we had nine of 10 guys doing their job and then we’re missing on one or two. The score could’ve been 14-10 in the late third quarter if Marquez North had pulled down that deep pass. We had another shot for a big play, but Justin Worley hit Josh Malone instead of a more open Von Pearson, who might still be running had he been thrown a good ball. We’re not completely inept – we just need to execute a little better.

At quarterback, Worley’s going to go if he’s up for it. But we’re ready to pull the redshirt off Joshua Dobbs if we need to.

Alabama won’t make it easy regardless of the QB situation. This maybe isn’t 2011-level Alabama defense, but it’s not that far off. Statistically, they’re near the top of the league in almost every important category. As always, the front-seven is tough. We’re going to run at defensive end Jonathan Allen’s side because he’s the only starter on the defensive line that we’ll have a little bit of a size advantage on. We’ll wash him down, pull a guard around on power to kick out the linebacker and see if we can find some room that way in the running game.

If there’s one area that’s not as developed on the Alabama defense, it’s the secondary. Safety Landon Collins is an absolute stud. We have to know where he is and make sure we don’t float any passes in his area. But others teams have put some numbers on the Tide’s secondary. Run-first Arkansas had 246 passing yards against the Tide. West Virginia had over 300 and Ole Miss had over 250. All of those games were away from home for Alabama. We may not hit huge numbers, but if we can get to 200 through the air, take care of the ball and find just a touch of space in the run game, we’ll give ourself a much better shot than we did last week.

Defense: Alabama does have a balanced offense to an extent. The threats come from a few places: 1. The talented running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry 2. Receiver Amari Cooper and 3. Quarterback Blake Sims’ ability to extend plays with his feet and then make good decisions.

First and foremost, we will have to stop the run. Easier said than done, but our front seven has been up for most tasks this year. That’ll mean another man in the box in many situations. Yeldon and Henry are both downhill runners, so they’re the type we have to slow before they really get started. If Henry gets matched up in the open field with somebody like Emmanuel Moseley, go ahead and put a touchdown on the board for Alabama. We can’t let those guys loose past our front seven.

There’s no other way to put it: we need maybe the best game Cam Sutton has ever played. And that’s asking a lot. But if he can keep Cooper in check in man coverage for much of the night, that’ll free up some help for our run defense. The good news this week is that Alabama doesn’t have the other weapons that Ole Miss did. There’s a 724 yard difference between Cooper (908) and Alabama’s 2nd-leading receiver DeAndrew White (184). That’s not to say they don’t have other athletes, but those are at least winnable battles for our other defensive backs.

A mobile quarterback is no new challenge for us, but we have to keep him contained and get him to the ground or make him throw it away. Some of Alabama’s most dangerous plays are when he gets time run around and create time for Cooper to get behind the defense. That’ll take great discipline from our entire unit.

Finally, we need turnovers. We got close last week. But our reality as a team is that our offense is down and we have to help them. Sims has only thrown three interceptions this season, but he’s been loose with the ball on occasion. Alabama’s been lucky it hasn’t been more. Let’s get at least two this week and we’ll give ourselves a chance to be in the game.

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