Tennessee is looking to bounce back from a heartbreaking home loss at No. 13 Ole Miss with the greatest road test of the season, a matchup with Nick Saban and No. 4 Alabama.
Each week, the RTI team will provide game predictions for Tennessee’s weekly opponent.
We move on to Alabama.
Ric Butler: There’s no question about it, Alabama will be the toughest team that Tennessee has encountered throughout the Josh Heupel era to date. To begin with the end, I think this is a game similar to Florida and Ole Miss, where people look at Tennessee after the game and think, “You know, they aren’t there yet, but that’s a different Tennessee team right there.” I think that’s fair to say. In the first half against Florida, Tennessee went toe-to-toe with the Gators and just ran out of steam in the second half. Meanwhile, against Ole Miss, Tennessee lost by less than a touchdown to a team that was significantly more put together for four quarters. Ultimately, there have been and will be games this season where the final score looks fairly similar to years past, but, the outlook is far different in terms of positivity. I look at this game in the same light for Tennessee. I don’t think Tennessee will win this game, but I think there will be areas that Tennessee does succeed at during the game. For instance, I think that Tennessee’s defensive line could continue their great play this season, forcing Bryce Youing out of the pocket and into uncomfortable situations. I also think that Heupel himself will have a chance to out-scheme a coach from the SEC in specific areas of the game, which he has done to each so far. All of that combines for positivity in the future, but I don’t think it will be enough for Tennessee to win. The early reports from Friday have been that Hendon Hooker will play, and that’s a major bonus for Tennessee. I don’t know how competitive the Vols will be if Hooker is not behind center all four quarters. There are a few areas that where I think Tennessee will struggle, most noticeably on the offensive line. Ultimately, Tennessee’s front five have played well this year, and even done a serviceable job when having to swap positions all over the place too. Tennessee’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries, so that alone will be an X-factor in Saturday’s game. I think this is a game where Tennessee will give guys experience opportunities, especially on defense. Many of Tennessee’s defensive players were in on a career-high in snaps last week, and with another high-scoring opponent in a night game, the Vols will need to be rotating in fresh players after eight straight weeks of games. This game will be in an electric atmosphere, too. I certainly think that Tennessee will have its moments in the game. However, I don’t think Tennessee will be there just quite yet, but I do think that it’s a different Tennessee team than what Alabama has seen in the past. How’s that for full circle?
Prediction: No. 4 Alabama 41, Tennessee 23
Ryan Schumpert: Tennessee heads to Tuscaloosa on the fourth Saturday in October to face an Alabama team that’s slightly down this season but still a massive challenge. The Crimson Tide aren’t perfect or as consistent as past Alabama teams — see the narrow win over Florida or loss to unranked Texas A&M— but they’re still likely the second most talented team in the country. That’s why they’re four-score favorites over Josh Heupel’s first Tennessee team. This game is hard to predict due to the number of Tennessee players that are questionable. Quarterback Hendon Hooker is trending towards being available which feels remarkable seven days after he left the field in obvious pain against Ole Miss. Still, even if Hooker goes the availability of Tiyon Evans, Cooper Mays, Cade Mays and Elijah Simmons are up in the air. I’d be surprised if Cade Mays plays after exiting the Ole Miss game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. That presents major issues for Tennessee’s ability to block Will Anderson— the SEC sack leader and one of the conference’s best players. Former walk on Dayne Davis struggled in replace of Mays last week against Ole Miss. What I’m really intrigued to see Saturday is how Tennessee’s defense holds up against an offense averaging the fourth-most points a game nationally. The Vols’ defense keeps exceeding my expectations and that happened against a really good Ole Miss offense a week ago. As good as the Crimson Tide’s offense is, it’s not unstoppable like last season’s when they bolstered Mac Jones, Najee Harris, Jaylen Waddle, Davonta Smith and the nation’s best offensive line. The fact that Tennessee is playing its eight game in a row and the Vols’ defense played over 100 snaps last week is my big worry about Tennessee’s defense. It feels realistic that the bottom could fall off in the second half if they’re on the field for an extended amount of time again this Saturday. I think Alabama takes care of business, but I expect Tennessee to keep competing and playing hard for 60 minutes.
Prediction: Alabama 42, Tennessee 20