But a closer look at No. 4 Alabama’s numbers does reveal something potentially positive for UT. Alabama isn’t as good on the road – at least not so far in 2014. It’s been most noticeable on offense. Alabama’s scored a total of 30 points in road contests against Ole Miss and Arkansas this season. Only 23 of those points have come from the offense, dropping the average to 11.5 points per road game when just looking at that side of the ball. So for as daunting as the 59-spot that Alabama put on the board last week against Texas A&M is, that 11.5 figure should give Tennessee’s already confident defense something to believe in.
And total yardage figures have followed the same pattern. Alabama is averaging over 500 yards per game at home. They’re at a little over 300 yards per game on the road.
Why the differences? It could be a combination of several things. The opponents certainly play into it. Alabama played at Ole Miss, which boasts one of the best defenses in the nation. But the other road game at Arkansas, while challenging, wasn’t against an elite team. Certainly the general challenges of playing on the road such as being in a different environment with hostile fans plays into it as well.
During the broadcast of the Alabama-A&M game, CBS analyst Gary Danielson noted how much better the communication was for Alabama in their home stadium after they struggled with it on the road at Arkansas the previous week. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was able to relay checks to quarterback Blake Sims, who easily got the word out to the rest of the offense. This is generally true for every team playing at home vs. on the road, but Danielson clearly illustrated a route adjustment that Kiffin called for star receiver Amari Cooper that led to an easy touchdown.
While doing his weekly film review, my colleague Houston Kress found instances of Alabama struggling to adjust the play while on the road at Arkansas as well. Despite all their talent and depth, Alabama is, after all, being led by a first-year starting quarterback and a new offensive coordinator.
We asked Jancek about it on Wednesday and he had a very diplomatic answer.
“Not as far as I can tell in terms of communication – they obviously would know better on that than I would, but I don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “I think on Saturday Alabama is going to come in here well prepared, they’re well coached and I assume we’ll get their best game.”
That was a pretty safe response and one that won’t make the Alabama bulletin board. We all saw what an angry Alabama team could do last week, after all.
But the numbers tell a different story – and it’s the tale that should give Tennessee its most hope come Saturday. It doesn’t change the fact that Alabama is the more talented team or that UT will be the underdog, but it should give the sell-out crowd – as if it needed it with Kiffin in town – a reason to be a little extra louder on Saturday.
“Again, I think our crowd has provided a great home-field advantage for us – 102,455, our student body, everyone has been great,” Butch Jones said this week. “Third-down, everything, I think it is just creating that atmosphere. Obviously, third down and just continuing to do what they have been able to do to impact the game.”
It could potentially have a huge impact on Saturday.