2016 Opponent Look Ahead: Alabama

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    Photo By Hayley Pennesi/Tennessee Athletics

    Photo By Hayley Pennesi/Tennessee Athletics

    Alabama vs Tennessee

    When: Saturday, Oct. 15th

    Where: Knoxville, Tenn. (Neyland Stadium)

    Alabama at a glance

    Head coach: Nick Saban (10th year, 105-18)

    Conference: SEC

    All-time record: 864-326–43

    2015 results: 14-1 (7-1) Won National Championship 45-40 over the Clemson Tigers

    Record against Tennessee: 53-37-8; Last meeting was a 19-14 victory for Alabama in Tuscaloosa last season

    2015 Overview: It sounds like a broken record almost every season, but Alabama won yet another National Championship last season, their fourth under head coach Nick Saban. Alabama’s lone loss on the season was a 43-37 loss to Ole Miss in the third game of the season. After that point, the Crimson Tide never lost again, capping off the season with a 45-40 victory over Clemson in the National Championship Game.

    Alabama was loaded with talent on both sides of the ball in 2015, most notably in their offensive backfield. Running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy in 2015, gaining 2,219 yards on 395 attempts, scoring 28 rushing touchdowns in the process. Jake Coker was an adequate quarterback who took care of the ball for the most part, completing 66.9 percent of his passes and tossing 21 touchdowns compared to 8 interceptions.

    Last season was just another in the long line of successful years both Alabama and Nick Saban have enjoyed. And they looked prepared to make 2016 another one to add to that list.

    Alabama does return just 11 starters from 2015, but their biggest strength is their depth, and many of last season’s reserves will produce well as starters this season. Just like every other season for the Tide.

    Three questions for this game:

    1. How will Alabama’s quarterback perform?

    Alabama may not know who its starting quarterback is right now, but by the time the Vols host Alabama on the Third Saturday in October, the Tide will likely have their quarterback situation figured out. Whoever ends up under center for the Tide will be facing what should be a stout Tennessee defense. Alabama’s Jake Coker completed 21-of-27 passes for 247 yards and no touchdowns, tossing a pick in the process. His numbers weren’t spectacular, but he got the job done and was able to rely on Bama’s run game and defense to win. Expect much of the same from this year’s quarterback for the Tide.

    2. Can Tennessee’s offense move the ball efficiently against Bama’s defense?

    The Vols ran the ball relatively effectively against an extremely stingy Alabama defense in last year’s match-up, but overall Tennessee’s offense was held in check, scoring just 14 points and totaling 303 yards. Both of those were well under the Vols’ season averages of 35.2 points a game and 422.3 yards a game. Granted, Alabama had the the best defense the Vols faced last year and the Tide always have a stellar defense, but Tennessee struggled to make enough big plays to win a close game. The Vols’ already potent offense should be even better this season, and they’ll need to pile up more yards and score a few more points to win this year’s contest.

    3. Will the Vols finally get over the hump?

    It’s been nine-straight years that the Vols have lost to Alabama. So far, Tennessee is winless against Nick Saban since he’s been the head coach of the Crimson Tide. The Vols got close to ending that streak last season, pulling ahead in the fourth quarter after a touchdown. But then Derrick Henry did what he did best, and he carried the Tide down the field for the game-winning drive. The Vols will be more equally matched with Alabama than they have in years this year, and having the game in Knoxville will only help their chances.

    How do we expect it to play out?

    Ever since Butch Jones took over, the Vols have slowly closed the gap in the Alabama series. Alabama’s margin of victory went from 35 in 2013 to 14 in 2014 to just five last season.

    Now with the most talented roster he’s had since becoming head coach of the Vols, Butch Jones could be the coach that ends the losing streak that started under Phillip Fulmer.

    Regardless of who wins this game, expect it to be the most physical game the Vols play all season. Both Alabama and Tennessee have strong front sevens, and both those units figure to make a huge impact on the game. Quarterback play on both sides will be pivotal, and whichever team is more efficient on both sides of the ball will be the winner.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.