2019 Opponent Preview: No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide

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    (Photo via Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)

    2019 Record: 6-0 overall (3-0, SEC)

    Head Coach: Nick Saban (13th year, 152-21 overall)
    Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

    Leading Passer: Tua Tagovailoa (Jr.) — 134-of-182, 2,011 yards 27 TD, 1 INT
    Leading Rusher: Najee Harris (Jr.) — 74 carries, 451 yards, TD, 6.1 YPC
    Leading Receiver: Jerry Jeudy (Jr.) — 42 receptions, 538 yards, 6 TD
    Leading Tackler: Xavier McKinney (Jr.) — 47 tackles (30 solo), TFL, INT, PD, FF, FR

    Total Offense Rank: 6th (536.8)
    Passing Offense Rank:
    3rd (366.0)
    Rushing Offense Rank: 58th (170.8)
    Scoring Offense Rank: 2nd (51.0)

    Total Defense Rank: 36th (336.0)
    Passing Defense Rank: 44th (202.8)
    Rushing Defense Rank: 47th (133.2)
    Scoring Defense Rank: 14th (17.0)

    Here’s a complete preview of Tennessee’s opponent this Saturday, the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.

    Offense

    Alabama’s offense is as good as it gets. Led by junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide’s offense is averaging 51.0 points per game. Only one team in the country averages more — No. 2 LSU.

    It all starts and begins with the run-pass-option, otherwise known as the RPO. Tagovailoa is the best of the best in terms of reading defenses and ball placement. As for the wide receivers he’s throwing the football to, they’re arguably the greatest wide receiver room college football has ever seen.

    “If you watch Alabama, they’ll run the counter and power plays,” Jeremy Pruitt explained while discussing the Crimson Tide’s RPO game during Wednesday night’s Vol Calls. “They’ll get in two-by-two and run the power back into the boundary a lot, and they read the weak-side safety. If he’s coming down, so you’re playing an eight-man front to get an extra hat for the run, they throw the glance route in behind them. If you bring somebody off the head of the slot, they’ll throw it to the field with double slants out there. They can run counters and do the same thing. They can do it out of zone-read. They can read an inside linebacker and instead of zoning it to the inside ‘backer, they blow it and block the end and read the inside linebacker.

    “Everything looks the same, and then they seven-man protect and they’re running three-man routes and they’re running doubles moves off of it, and it’s hard to get pressure on them. They have a nice little combination of what they do in their RPOs, their play-action passes, their seven-man protections, their boots, their waggles, their nekkids. You can affect the quarterback in some ways, but you better be able to guard them in the back end.”

    As a result of the RPO, Tagovailoa has already thrown for 27 touchdowns and just one interception in six games. The Heisman hopeful is also completing 73.6 percent of his passes, which have gone for 2,011 yards this season.

    DeVonta Smith stands as the Crimson Tide’s leading receiver. Although Smith will miss the first half of Saturday’s game due to suspension, he’s caught 38 passes for 636 yards and nine touchdowns.

    While Smith leads the team in receiving yards, Jerry Jeudy leads the team in catches with 42, and he’s totaled 538 yards and six touchdowns on those receptions. Henry Ruggs III has caught 18 passes for 394 yards and five touchdowns.

    It doesn’t stop with Smith, Jeudy, and Ruggs, however. Sophomore Jaylen Waddle also plays a big role in Alabama’s passing game and has the ability to make opposing defenses look silly. On the season, Waddle has 15 catches for 245 yards and a touchdown.

    Alabama can also wear down opposing defenses with its running game led by junior Najee Harris. Complementing Alabama’s passing attack, Harris has rushed for 451 yards and a touchdown on the year. Backup Brian Robinson Jr. has rushed for three touchdowns and 249 yards on 56 carries.

    From left to right, Alex Leatherwood, Evan Neal, Chris Owens, Landon Dickerson, and Jedrick Wills Jr. lead the way for an Alabama offensive line that is really starting to roll. Owens didn’t play at Texas A&M last Saturday due to a knee injury. If he can’t play, Dickerson likely slides over to center, and Deonte Brown enters at right guard.

    On the season, Alabama’s big uglies have allowed just seven sacks by opponents.

    Defense

    Alabama’s 2019 defense isn’t the Alabama defense we’ve come to know. In fact, some have argued that its the worst defense Nick Saban has had during his time in Tuscaloosa. It isn’t necessarily Saban’s fault, however. Alabama was killed with injuries early in the year, and as a result, have had to play young players all throughout the defense.

    Because the Tide have been playing so many young players, Alabama is allowing 17.0 points per game, 170.8 rushing yards, 202.8 passing yards, and 336.0 total yards. That’s good enough for a ranking of 14th, 47th, 44th, and 36th in the country. While not terrible numbers, its nowhere being Alabama-caliber numbers.

    Defensive depth just isn’t great for the Crimson Tide, especially at linebacker following the season-ending injuries to Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillion. Freshmen Shane Lee and Christin Harris have been asked to fill in at the MIKE and WILL spots, respectively. The freshmen duo have flashed their potential quite often, but they’re still adjusting to college football.

    Redshirt junior Terrell Lewis and redshirt senior Anfernee Jennings flank Lee and Harris on the outside. Jennings leads the team in tackles for a loss with seven, while Lewis is second with six.

    Up front along the defensive line, Alabama is led by senior defensive end Raekwon Davis. But Davis only has a single tackle for a loss on the season, and he has failed to bring down the quarterback. Flanked by two freshmen in tackles DJ Dale and Justin Eboigbe, the defensive line has struggled to generate a consistent pass rush this season.

    The strength of Alabama’s defense is without a doubt the secondary — led by safety Xavier McKinney. McKinney and Jennings have been Bama’s most productive defensive players. The junior safety leads the team in tackles (47), has a tackle for a loss, an interception, a pass breakup, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

    Senior Shyheim Carter is Alabama’s other starting safety. Flanking the safety duo of Carter and McKinney is Trevon Diggs and Patrick Surtain II at corner. Surtain and Carter also play the star/nickel position at times for Saban. As a group, Alabama’s secondary ranks 44th in the country and fourth in the SEC statistically.

    If Alabama doesn’t win a National Championship this season, it’ll likely be because of Saban’s defense. But that doesn’t mean that this defense isn’t talented and productive, because it is.

    Special Teams

    Alabama’s long-living kicker joke remains, and while they’ve struggled at times to punt the football, the Crimson Tide are dynamic in the return game with Ruggs returning kicks and Waddle returning punts.

    Ruggs is averaging 28.7 yards per kick return. Waddle is averaging 22.0 yards per punt return. Sophomore linebacker Ale Kaho blocked and returned a punt for a touchdown against Ole Miss, while redshirt sophomore Tyrell Shavers has returned a punt for a touchdown this season.

    Bama’s kickers have combined to miss four field goal attempts this season. Will Reichard is 4-for-7 on the year with a long of 49 yards. Freshman Joseph Bulovas’ long this year is from 36 yards out. Bulovas is 3-for-4 this season when attempting a field goal.

    Skyler Delong, Alabama’s starting punter, is averaging 33.0 yards on 10 punts this season.



    Ben McKee
    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He grew up an Army brat and lived in Alabama for a bit, but he bleeds orange. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also a co-host on the RTI Live Show and RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.