Prediction Panel: No. 2 Alabama vs. Tennessee

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    (Photo via Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics)

    The Rocky Top Insider team makes their picks for No. 18 Tennessee’s matchup with the Kentucky Wildcats this Saturday. Managing editor Ben McKee, RTI contributors Blake Von Hagen and Noah Taylor, and guest picker Rob Harvey of the Citizen Tribune share their picks.

    Ben’s Pick

    This simply isn’t a good matchup for Tennessee.

    Alabama has one of the best offenses in program history, if not the best ever, and Tennessee doesn’t have the pieces to potentially slow it down. Jaylen Waddle is the most explosive player in the country and should have a field day against the Vols over the middle of the field as most teams have. Oh, and there’s Devonta Smith, who ranks in the top 10 of every major statistical category in program history. To put the icing on the cake, quarterback Mac Jones is playing great football.

    Now, Alabama’s defense has been suspect through four games. The Crimson Tide are yet to hold a team under 250 passing yards, but do we have confidence that Tennessee’s quarterback room will have success? No. The Vols may be able to run the football on Saturday, but ultimately, the quarterback position will hold them back.

    Tennessee may cover, but if it does, it’ll be because Nick Saban takes his foot off the gas in the second half. Not because Tennessee’s first team on either side of the ball is having success against Alabama’s first team.

    Pick: Alabama, 49-20

    MVP: Alabama RB Najee Harris

    Tennessee’s defensive line has struggled quite a bit this season, especially against the run. Well, here comes Najee Harris and arguably the best offensive line in the country. Harris and the offensive line should have a big day.

    Blake’s Pick

    It’s certainly tough to see Tennessee having a chance to win this game, but it might not be quite as big of a blowout as some people think. Every team has been able to run the ball against Alabama this season. Georgia was averaging five yards per carry before mysteriously deciding to air the ball out the entire second half last week. Tennessee’s strength on offense is the rushing attack and it is going to be an even bigger emphasis this week after Jarrett Guarantano’s struggles last week.

    Alabama is also going to look to establish the run in a road game after not having as much success in that department last week. With both teams running the ball, the clock will be moving throughout this game. The Crimson Tide have struggled defensively this season. People seem to be forgetting their defensive woes after Georgia gift-wrapped three turnovers last week. Tennessee has covered the spread in five of its last six games as an underdog under Jeremy Pruitt and I think the Vols sneak inside the spread at home this week.

    Pick:Alabama, 38-20

    MVP: Alabama RB Najee Harris

    Harris is one of the top non-quarterback candidates to win the Heisman Trophy this season. He had some big runs in the second half of last week’s game and will pick up where he left off against a struggling Tennessee defensive front.

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    Noah’s Pick

    Alabama’s defense struggled in its first three games of the season but seemed to find itself last week against No. 4 Georgia. After trailing the Bulldogs 24-20 at the half, the Crimson Tide defense pitched a second half shut out en route to a 41-24 win. If that defense continues to play well, Saturday could be a long day for a Tennessee offense that has posted just seven points in its last six quarters of play. I don’t know if starting and playing Jarrett Guarantano a majority of the game or opting instead of freshman Harrison Bailey will make too much of a difference.
    One area where Alabama hasn’t struggled at all is on offense. Led by quarterback Mac Jones, now the SEC’s leading passer, Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt said earlier this week that this Alabama offense could be its best ever. They’ve certainly been putting up the numbers to back that claim. Tennessee’s defense will have its hands full.

    Pick: Alabama, 48-24

    MVP: Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle

    Rob’s Pick

    There’s just no way around this one, it’s not going to be very pretty. Both teams are headed in the opposite direction with Alabama coming off a statement win over Georgia while Tennessee endured one of its worst losses in a very long time. Mac Jones enters the game after throwing for 417 yards and four touchdowns on a UGA defense that wreaked havoc on the Vols in the second half.
    Defensively, Alabama is not the same unit as usual. However, they are still very good. Their weakness seems to be in the secondary, but Tennessee has had a tough time attacking anybody’s secondary with such a weak passing game. Many eyes are on who starts at quarterback for Tennessee. Regardless, look for Alabama to stack the box and dare Tennessee to throw the football.
    Two weeks ago, my prediction would have been vastly different. But six really bad quarters of football from Tennessee and four really good quarters of football from Alabama have changed that. The Vols might hang tough for a quarter, but this game should get out of hand rather quickly.

    Pick: Alabama 52, Tennessee 10

    MVP: Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle

    If you are Alabama, you know that Tennessee has struggled to stop slants and short passes all season long. This is a recipe for success for Alabama who boast Jaylen Waddle, who ran a 4.37 40-yard dash this summer. Look for Alabama to hit Tennessee time and time again with the slant pass and don’t be surprised if Jones finds Waddle on the slant on the first play of the game.

    Ben McKee
    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also the host of the 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.