Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee will “buy or sell” the likelihood of several things happening each week before a Tennessee football game. Here are their takes on the Vols’ match-up with their bitter rival, No. 1 Alabama.
Buy or Sell: Brian Maurer starts and doesn’t get pulled because of injury or health issues.
Nathanael: I’m going to buy this. I think Maurer starts on Saturday, and I think he ends up getting pulled in the game, but I don’t think it’ll be because of injury or lingering issues from his concussion. At some point, Alabama is going to pull away and have an insurmountable lead. I think then is when the staff will pull Maurer in favor of Guarantano just to ensure Maurer doesn’t take an unnecessary hit late in the game like he did against Georgia.
Ben: I’m buying. When Jeremy Pruitt was asked about the status of Maurer this week, I didn’t catch on to any doubt that he wouldn’t play. To me, it was more gamesmanship than anything while also being careful in regards to a concussion. Maurer practiced every day this week, so I believe he’ll start. If he gets pulled due to health issues, it’ll be because of a different injury.
Buy or Sell: Tennessee totals 20 points or more against Alabama.
Nathanael: I’ll sell, if only barely. I think Tennessee gets 17 points on Saturday. The Vols haven’t put up a lot of points in SEC games this season, and while this game will likely be a different animal than UT’s previous three conference games, I just don’t see this offense putting up 20 or more points on Alabama. Tennessee only barely eclipsed that mark last year because the Tide stepped off the gas pretty early. It was 28-0 at the end of the first quarter and 42-14 at halftime. The Vols lost 58-21, but it could’ve easily been 72-14 or something like that. This Alabama defense isn’t as good as last year, but Tennessee has also turned the ball over a lot this year.
Ben: I’m buying. This Alabama defense isn’t the Alabama defense we’re used to. It’s not to say the Crimson Tide are bad on that side of the ball, but when was the last time we saw a Nick Saban defense allow 17.0 points per game, 133.2 rushing yards, 202.8 passing yards, and 336.0 total yards? Alabama gave up 23 points to South Carolina, 31 points to Ole Miss and 28 points to Texas A&M — all average offenses. I expect for Tennessee to have some offensive success.
Buy or Sell: The Vols hold the Tide to under 45 points.
Nathanael: Nope, ain’t happening. I would be absolutely stunned if Tennessee held the Tide below their season average of 51 points a game, let alone below 45 points. Alabama has been held under 45 points exactly one time all season, and that was in their first game against Duke. Even then, they got close, winning 42-3. The Tide dropped 47 on South Carolina, 59 on Ole Miss, and 47 on Texas A&M. I think you’ll see Bama eclipse 50 points for the second-straight year against Tennessee.
Ben: Sell all day long. This Alabama offense is ridiculously good. Tua Tagovailoa, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and Najee Harris form a terrible match-up for a Tennessee defense that has lacked a consistent pass rush all season long. Oh, and arguably Tennessee’s best defensive player — Henry To’o To’o — is suspended for the first half of the game.
Buy or Sell: Tennessee gets more than one sack against the Tide.
Nathanael: I’ll sell this one. I think the Vols can maybe get one sack against this stout Alabama offensive line, but I would be pretty surprised if they get more than that. UT’s defensive line played their best game of the season last weekend against Mississippi State, but even then it took really good coverages from Tennessee’s secondary and some bad decisions and holding the ball too long from MSU’s quarterbacks for some of the sacks to happen. Alabama has a much, much, much better offense than Mississippi State, and Georgia is probably the only team in the SEC with a better offensive line than the Tide. The Vols got zero sacks and two tackles for loss against Georgia. I don’t think they’ll fare a lot better in this game. Last year, Tennessee had a better D-line and couldn’t sack either of Bama’s quarterbacks.
Ben: I’ll buy simply because SURELY Tennessee can sack Tagovailoa once. In fact, I’ll put my money on Darrell Taylor getting to the quarterback and picking up a sack. Alabama’s offensive line is a good one, however, and they’ve only given up seven sacks on the season. I still think Tennessee can get in the backfield at least once and can get a second sack, too.
Buy or Sell: Butch Jones shows up on TV more than five times during the game.
Nathanael: This little man always finds a way to get on the camera, especially when it’s this game. Just take last year for example. I’m definitely buying this, and I’ll be absolutely shocked if he isn’t on ESPN at least half a dozen times.
Ben: This is the easiest one of the season. Butch Jones will be shown a million times unless he just simply goes missing. And he’ll be talked about just as much, especially if it’s a blowout in the fourth quarter.