It’s here. Bama week is upon us and that means that the Tennessee Volunteers will, once again, face one of the best teams in college football. Alabama currently sits at 6-1 on the season with the lone loss coming at home in a rare five-turnover performance against Ole Miss by the final score of 43-37.
Alabama is talented – perhaps earning the crown for the most talented team in the country from top-to-bottom – and they are extremely well coached. They are led by their dominant front-seven on defense and running back Derrick Henry on offense. They aren’t complex, they aren’t innovative, but they are extremely disciplined on both sides of the ball. They know what they want to do and they do it well. They aren’t as dynamic on offense as they were in 2014 with Blake Sims and Amari Cooper, but Jake Coker and Calvin Ridley are starting to develop that type of chemistry. In Alabama’s last four games, Ridley as 25 catches for 350 yards and three touchdowns.
It will be a tough challenge for Tennessee, but getting the bye-week when they did gives them a huge advantage considering that this will be Alabama’s eighth straight game of the season.
Onto the film:
0:08: I love that Arkansas came out in a 5-wide set with no running back in the back field. These type of sets force Alabama’s defense into uncomfortable formations/matchups and can often lead to some big plays. Here, Allen has a solid pocket and is able to hit a nice play over the middle to start the game. The key is to keep Alabama’s defense off balance and constantly guessing. Mixing up runs on passing downs and vice versa is a god way to catch them off guard from time to time.
0:38: Calvin Ridley catches an easy throw from Jake Coker, gets a great initial block from the other receiver and gets six yards on Alabama’s first play. These are the type of plays that Tennessee has really struggled to defend in recent years – especially against Alabama. Tennessee will need to take great angles and understand leverage against the sideline when pursuing. It’s better to give up 8 yards than 80 in this situation, no need to try and be a hero… Secure the tackle and get to the next play.
0:44: Kenyan Drake is doing a little bit of everything for Alabama this year. Here, he lines up as a receiver and comes across the middle on a simple drag concept. Coker notices that Arkansas has dropped into a zone look and wisely dumps it off and allows Drake to do his thing. Again, these plays are going to happen against the Vols…the key will be making sure they don’t go for touchdowns.
1:21: This is what I’m talking about. This is a simple read and throw for Alabama that turns into a huge play due to poor tackling and poor angles. Defensive ends need to try and get their hands up on these plays and impact Coker’s throw-angle, and the defensive backs need to try and recognize the formations in hopes of jumping the route for an interception.
That said, Alabama will set up the fake and hit a big play over the top if you over-pursue the screen, so it’s tough to sell out completely.
1:52: Arkansas tries a similar receiver screen, but Alabama’s defensive backs are well-trained in shedding blocks and pursuing the ball. Loss of one for Arkansas.
2:46: After what seems like ten straight handoffs to Derrick Henry, Kiffin calls the sweep to Ridley. You can see how fast and athletic Ridley is here as he turns upfield for eight yards. Had this play been called to the wide side of the field, it may have gone for a huge gain, or, possibly, a score. Ridley needs to be a focal point for Tennessee defensive backs this week.
4:12: Pressure Coker, and, like most quarterbacks, he is prone to making mistakes.
*Note* Alabama’s defense has lost contain on Brandon Allen numerous times. Now, Allen didn’t have the speed/athleticism to beat them like Joshua DObbs does, so this may be an area that Tennessee can exploit. If the Vols are going to have any chance this weekend, Dobbs is going to have to have the game of his life. He needs to look for the opportunity to extend drives with his feet as often as possible, while also being mindful to protect himself and keep his eyes down field. As we saw last year, however, there will likely be some opportunities for Dobbs on the ground.
7:14: Poor mechanics by Coker and another interception for Arkansas’ secondary (the worst in the SEC). When Coker’s first read wasn’t open, he panicked and forced the ball high over the middle. He is prone to confusion and really struggles when the play doesn’t go exactly as planned.
8:50: Alabama is still terrible at kicking field goals.
9:10: Bama comes out feeding Derrick Henry and then this happens…You can see, again, that they play isn’t quite right from the get-go and Coker panics. He throws the ball late and it is nearly picked off for a walk-in touchdown.
10:35: Bama’s front-seven is making life miserable for Arkansas at this point.
*Note* What little success Arkansas has had running the football has been when they’ve tried to run wide. That bodes well for Tennessee.
14:14: This should terrify you if you’re Tennessee. It should terrify you so much that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen on Saturday. Ridley runs a double-move and Coker’s slight pump-fake freezes the deep defender. Easy touchdown for the Tide.
15:47: He’s no Dak Prescott, but Coker can move a little bit when things break down. Hopefully the Vols can bring him down when they get their hands on him and prevent another Baker Mayfield situation.
16:10: Kiffin loves to flood the flat in short-yardage situations. This is a look that the Vols should expect to see a time or two on Saturday. It’s very similar to the play that Alvin Kamara used to score his two touchdowns against Georgia.
16:31: Terrible decision by Allen.
19:00: Derrick Henry is an absolute train once he gets a head of steam. Even though Arkansas has him behind the line, he slips the tackle and rolls down the sidelines. To tackle Henry you HAVE to stop his legs from moving.
19:12: Ball game.
Not a dominating performance by Alabama, but a solid win. This team is very different than last year’s…they just don’t have the firepower on offense to take advantage of their strong defense as often as they did in 2014. That doesn’t mean they aren’t still a great team, it just means that defensive lapses will now put them in close games instead of merely closing an already-huge gap. Their run/play-action based offense is prone to turnovers and their entire team will likely be a bit fatigued in what will be their eighth straight game of the season.
The matchup for the Vols isn’t great, especially considering the athleticism and strength of Bama’s front-seven. That said, Joshua Dobbs is the great equalizer in these games due to his ability to turn would-be sacks into positive plays. If the Vols can protect the football and force a few turnovers of their own, they’ll have a chance to be in this game in the fourth quarter…But it will take a near-flawless performance.