Herbstreit: Vols to be “Alabama’s Toughest Test” to This Point

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    Ever since Tennessee pulled off the 30-24 upset over No. 21 Auburn, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit has been high on the Vols. And on his most recent podcast this week, he stated that Tennessee could prove to be No. 1 Alabama’s toughest game so far in 2018.

    The Crimson Tide haven’t played a close game all season. The closest any team has come to them this year is when Texas A&M lost by 22 points. The Aggies were the No. 22 team at the time, and they’re now the No. 17 team in the country. Every other team has lost to the Tide by at least 29 points.

    Alabama’s star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been a big reason why the Tide have been blowing teams out. But the sophomore signal caller exited early against Missouri last weekend due to a knee injury. He still threw for over 250 yards and three scores while he played, but he didn’t look quite like himself in the game. Herbstreit believes Tagovailoa will be fine for the game, however.

    Who is visiting the Vols in the 2019 and 2020 classes this weekend when they host Alabama? We took a look at the visitor list and what it means for Tennessee over on RTI Premium!

    “Keep in mind, I’ll say this: I talked to people at Bama, and I think Tua’s fine with the knee,” Herbstreit said according to quotes gathered by Michael W. Bratton on Twitter. “There’s been a lot made of that this week. We’ll keep an eye on that because Tua takes them to a whole different level. Jalen Hurts is very good, but with Tua, all bets are off.”

    Tagovailoa has thrown for 21 touchdowns and hasn’t thrown an interception all season so far. He’s also yet to play in the fourth quarter because Alabama has been able to put in their reserves early in every game they’ve played.

    But even with Tagovailoa looking like a full-go against Tennessee, Herbstreit still expects the Vols to give Alabama a tough time.

    “With that in mind, Tennessee just went to (Jordan-Hare Stadium) and knocked off Auburn,” Herbstreit continued. “You can say Auburn is down, but for Tennessee to go to Jordan-Hare, that’s a huge win. And their quarterback, Jarrett Guarantano, made some big plays in the second half. He has some weapons in Jauan Jennings on the outside, (Marquez) Callaway, Ty Chandler running the ball.”

    Herbstreit was very complimentary of Guarantano’s career performance against Auburn last Saturday. He posted a video to his Twitter account breaking down Tennessee’s drive in the second half that saw them take the lead for good after Guarantano connected with Jauan Jennings for a 25-yard score. In that video, Herbstreit praised Guarantano for his poise, maturity, and leadership ability.

    Guarantano was 21-of-32 for 328 yards and two touchdowns against the Tigers. He won several Player of the Week awards for his performance, and he grabbed Herbstreit’s attention.

    It’s because of that breakout performance from Guarantano and Herbstreit’s confidence in Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt that makes him believe the Vols will be a big test for the Tide. But he’s not predicting Tennessee to pull off the massive upset on Saturday.

    “It’s a rivalry game, got nothing to lose, a coach in Jeremy Pruitt that knows Nick Saban very well, knows his players very, very well,” Herbstreit added. “Bama is going to win the game, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if this is Alabama’s toughest test to this point.”

    The Vols have failed to give Alabama much of a game the last two years, losing by 38 points last season and 39 points in 2016. Tennessee has lost 11 consecutive games to the Tide, and only two of those (2009 and 2015) have been decided by less than two scores. Eight of Alabama’s last 11 wins over Tennessee have come by 20 points or more.

    Alabama looks on pace to set offensive records this season, and they appear to be one of the best teams in college football in recent memory. But if Herbstreit is right, this weekend could prove to be their most difficult game to date this season.

    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.