On Wednesday mornings, all 14 SEC head coaches rotate through an SEC Teleconference call, opening up a range of questions for each coach. Both Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel and Alabama head coach Nick Saban spoke back to back on the call before their teams clash on Saturday night.
During his portion of the media teleconference call, Saban spoke quite a bit about Tennessee. The Alabama head coach said that there was “no question” that he was surprised by what Tennessee has been able to do this year, despite the record. Additionally, Saban spoke about Tennessee’s best offensive player. Although, not by name.
“They’ve improved the skill level,” Saban said on Wednesday, according to 247. “The runner is the best player on the offensive team in terms of consistent performance and production, even though he’s been injured a little bit lately. And that’s why they’re one of the top-scoring teams in the conference.”
Saban didn’t mention the player by name, making things a little trickier considering Tennessee has two top running backs. Not to mention, both Evans and Small have had injuries lately as well. However, it’s fairly clear that Saban refers to Tiyon Evans as the best offensive player on Tennessee’s roster.
Both Evans and Jabari Small have five appearances in seven games. Although, Small does have five starts with Evans getting the other two. At this point in the season, Evans leads Tennessee in most rushing categories. Evans has 486 yards on 73 total carries with six touchdowns. Meanwhile, Small has 324 yards on 65 total carries with three touchdowns. Additionally, both Evans and Small have four receptions on the year, with Evans leading Small in yards, 74 to 36.
Neither Evans nor Small lead the team in rushing attempts, though, surprisingly enough. That would be Vols’ quarterback Hendon Hooker with 89 carries.
There’s no question that both Tennessee running backs have been productive and vital for Tennessee’s offense this year. However, when looking at the statistics, it’s safe to assume Saban was referring to Evans. Either way, Tennessee will need both of their top backs against the Tide on Saturday.
Saban spoke in more detail about the offensive success as a whole for Tennessee.
“They lost a couple close games, but they have good players and they’ve done a good job of, like, overhauling and getting some players in that can make an immediate impact, which I think you have an opportunity to do with players being able to transfer like they are now,” Saban said on Wednesday. “And they’ve done a really good job of that, and they should be certainly credited for the job that they’ve done to kind of retool and get players that can do well in their system, and they’ve certainly done that.”
Tennessee (4-3, 2-2 SEC) will travel to take on No. 4 Alabama (6-1, 3-1 SEC) this Saturday at 7:00 p.m. ET.