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Tale of the Tape: Tennessee @ Alabama

James Pearce
NASHVILLE, TN – September 02, 2023 – Defensive lineman James Pearce Jr. #27 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Virginia Cavaliers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN. Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

Seventeenth-ranked Tennessee football (5-1, 2-1 SEC) is gearing up to face the 11th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1 SEC) in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.

Tennessee is searching for their third consecutive SEC win and second straight over Alabama, while the Tide are looking for revenge after last year’s loss. The game is essentially a playoff game for both teams, as the loser is, for all intents and purposes, eliminated from College Football Playoff contention.

There are plenty of interesting matchups to keep an eye on in this year’s Third Saturday in October matchup. In RTI’s latest ‘Tale of the Tape,’ we take a look at each position group for each team and see which side has the advantage.


Tennessee: Joe Milton III

Season stats (6 games):

112 completions on 182 attempts, 1,264 yards, 10 TD, 4 INT, 62% comp., 210.7 YPG, 11.3 yards per completion

32 rushes, 173 yards, 4 TD

Where Milton ranks in the SEC:

  • 12th in yards
  • 7th in completions, 8th in attempts
  • 10th in comp. %
  • 14th in yards per pass attempt (81st in FBS)
  • T-5th in TD
  • T-3rd in INT
  • 11th in QBR

Alabama: Jalen Milroe

Season stats (6 games):

85 completions on 132 attempts, 1,397 yards, 11 TD, 4 INT, 64% comp., 232.8 YPG, 16.4 yards per completion

68 attempts, 139 yards, 5 TD

Where Milroe ranks in the SEC:

  • 8th in yards
  • 12th in completions, 12th in attempts
  • 8th in comp. %
  • 2nd in yards per pass attempt (4th in FBS)
  • T-4th in TD
  • T-3rd in INT
  • 2nd in QBR

Advantage: Alabama

Milton has more total yards, but Milroe has the edge. He ranks much higher in yards per pass attempt and QBR, which are telling stats in terms of how much more efficient Milroe has been than Milton.

Neither are great options. Both have had their fair shares of struggles this season, but it feels like Milroe is getting better whereas Milton is regressing, especially considering how he played against a lackluster Texas A&M pass defense last week.

Running Back

Tennessee: Jaylen Wright, Jabari Small, Dylan Sampson

Tennessee rushing stats (6 games):

  • 1st in SEC with 231.3 yards per game
  • 1st in SEC with 5.88 yards per attempt
  • 13 rush TD (6th in SEC)

Wright: 80 att., 571 yards, 1 TD, 7.1 YPC, 95.17 YPG (1st in SEC and 9th in FBS in YPC, 3rd in SEC in YPG)

Small: 65 att., 359 yards, 2 TD, 5.5 YPC, 59.8 YPG

Sampson: 45 att., 273 yards, 6 TD, 6.1 YPC, 54.6 YPG

Alabama: Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams

Alabama rushing stats (7 games):

  • 8th in SEC with 148.43 yards per game
  • 11th in SEC with 3.81 yards per attempt
  • 12 rush TD (8th in SEC)

McClellan: 95 att., 454 yards, 3 TD, 4.8 YPC, 64.86 YPG (17th in SEC in YPC, 8th in YPG)

Williams: 61 att., 319 yards, 1 TD, 5.2 YPC, 45.57 YPG

Advantage: Tennessee

This is the biggest slam dunk decision of any position group. Jaylen Wright made his case as the SEC’s best running back with 136 yards on 19 carries against Texas A&M last week, who came into the week as the SEC’s best rush defense. Against the same Aggie defense, McClellan mustered just 45 carries on 12 attempts. Wright tripled that total.

Additionally, Tennessee had 10 times more rushing yards against A&M as a team than Alabama.

Tennessee’s backfield is deeper, too, as Small and Sampson are more than serviceable, especially inside the 10-yard-line. The Vols’ rushing offense will have a tough test against an Alabama front that is giving up 104 rush yards per game, but considering what Wright did against the Aggies, he looks to be matchup proof.

Pass Catchers

Tennessee: WRs Squirrel White, Ramel Keyton, Dont’e Thornton, TEs Jacob Warren, McCallan Castles

Tennessee stats (6 games):

White: 29 rec., 305 yards, 0 TD, 10.52 yards per reception, 50.83 YPG

Keyton: 14 rec., 230 yards, 3 TD, 16.43 yards per reception, 38.33 YPG

Castles: 9 rec., 124 yards, 1 TD, 13.78 yards per reception, 20.67 YPG

Thornton: 7 rec., 89 yards, 0 TD, 12.71 yards per reception, 17.80 YPG

Warren: 8 rec., 61 yards, 3 TD, 7.63 yards per reception, 10.17 YPG

Alabama: WRs Jermaine Burton, Isaiah Bond, Kobe Prentice, TEs Amari Niblack, CJ Dippre

Alabama stats (7 games):

Burton: 19 rec., 446 yards, 4 TD, 23.47 yards per reception (1st in SEC), 63.71 YPG

Bond: 20 rec., 283 yards, 2 TD, 14.15 yards per reception, 40.43 YPG

Niblack: 11 rec., 213 yards, 3 TD, 19.36 yards per reception, 30.43 YPG

Prentice: 11 rec., 186 yards, 1 TD, 16.91 yards per reception, 26.57 YPG

Dippre: 5 rec., 104 yards, 0 TD, 20.80 yards per reception, 14.86 YPG

Advantage: Alabama

Prior to the season, I would’ve been shocked if you told me I was giving Alabama’s passcatchers the edge over Tennessee’s by Week 7.

But the injury to Bru McCoy significantly hurts Tennessee’s receiver corps. Ramel Keyton has also had a down year up to this point, Squirrel White hasn’t shown the ability to be a very versatile weapon yet, and the tight ends are limited as receivers. Tennessee’s WR/TE corps isn’t bad, and their production has mostly suffered due to Joe Milton’s inefficiencies, but with the season Burton is having, Alabama gets the nod.

More From RTI: Bowl Projections For Tennessee Football at the Season Halfway Point
Offensive Line

Tennessee stats (6 games):

Joe Milton sacked eight times (3rd best in the SEC)

Alabama stats (7 games):

Jalen Milroe has been sacked 26 times (2nd worst in SEC) in six games.

Alabama has given up 31 total sacks (4.43 sacks per game), which ranks 126/130 in FBS.

Advantage: Tennessee

Tennessee’s offensive line has improved significantly with the return of Cooper Mays. But even when the unit was lackluster without their preseason All-SEC center, they were much better than Alabama.

Outside of J.C. Latham, Alabama’s offensive line has struggled mightily this season. You see the stats. And with this Tennessee defensive line coming to Tuscaloosa playing the way they’ve been playing? It could be a rough day for Jalen Milroe, much like it’s been for every quarterback Tennessee has faced this season sans Graham Mertz.

Defensive Line

Tennessee stats (6 games):

  • 24 sacks (3rd in SEC & 4th in FBS)
  • 4.00 sacks per game (2nd in SEC, 3rd in FBS)
  • 52 TFL (2nd in SEC, T-6th in FBS)
  • 9.4 TFL per game (2nd in SEC, T-3rd in FBS)

Alabama stats (7 games):

  • 26 sacks (2nd in SEC & 3rd in FBS)
  • 3.71 sacks per game (3rd in SEC, 4th in FBS)
  • 50 TFL (3rd in SEC, 11th in FBS)
  • 7.1 TFL per game (4th in SEC, 21st in FBS)

Advantage: Tennessee (very slight)

This is the closest call of them all. Statistically, Tennessee is slightly better, so they get the nod. But Alabama’s front can go toe-to-toe with anybody’s. The Tide’s defensive line, along Tennessee’s and A&M’s, have been in their own tier atop the SEC this season. Dallas Turner, a future first round pick, has racked up 9.5 tackles for loss for the Tide this season and ranks first in sacks with seven.

Turner is as good of a player as Tennessee will face this season and may be the best defensive player on either team.. But when it comes down to it, I like the way Tennessee’s defensive line matches up against Alabama’s offensive line better than vice versa. James Pearce Jr., Tyler Baron and company will have more of an impact on this game than Turner and the rest of the Tide’s front.


Tennessee: Aaron Beasley, Elijah Herring, Arion Carter

Tennessee stats (6 games):

Beasley: 38 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 QBH,

Herring: 35 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 QBH

Carter: 15 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU

Alabama: Trezmen Marshall, Deontae Lawson

Alabama stats (7 games):

Marshall: 40 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 QBH

Lawson: 37 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH

Advantage: Tie

The first and only tie on the tale of the tape. If I absolutely had to give the edge to one side, it would be Tennessee because they have the best player of the bunch in Beasley, but Marshall and Lawson have been solid this year, whereas Herring and Carter haven’t been all that effective. The duo has done a fine job stepping up in Keenan Pili’s absence, but they’re not going to make a highlight reel.

At least we haven’t seen that yet.

Ultimately, this game will not be decided by linebacker play.


Tennessee stats (6 games):

  • 28th in FBS in Opp. Passing YPG (197.8)
  • 6 INT (1 pick six) (10th in SEC)
  • 21 pass deflections (9th in SEC)
  • 4th in FBS in yards per completion (9.13)
  • 24th in FBS in pass efficiency defense

Alabama stats (7 games):

  • 23rd in FBS in Opp. Passing YPG (187.1)
  • 7 INT (1 pick six) (6th in SEC)
  • 18 pass deflections (13th in SEC)
  • 18th in FBS in yards per completion (10.4)
  • 25 in FBS in pass efficiency defense

Notable player stats:


CB Kamal Hadden: 3 INT (3rd in SEC), 8 PBU, 11 passes defended (2nd in FBS)


S Caleb Downs: 54 tackles (4th in SEC, 1st among DBs), 2 INT

Advantage: Alabama

Alabama gets the edge here. They simply have better players. Alabama CB Kool-Aid McKinstry is first-round talent, and the only reason he doesn’t get any love on the stat sheet is because no one throws to him.

McKinstry and Downs is a great CB and S duo, much better than anything Tennessee has. Although, Hadden’s impressive play as of late has Tennessee’s secondary playing well.

Special Teams

Tennessee: PR & KR Dee Williams

Tennessee stats (6 games):

Williams punt returns: 11 returns, 190 yards (2nd in SEC), 17.27 AVG (2nd in SEC), 1 TD, 55 long

Williams kick returns: 6 returns, 128 yards, 21.3 AVG (6th in SEC), 34 long

Alabama: PR Kool-Aid McKinstry, KR Kendrick Law

Alabama stats (7 games):

McKinstry: 10 returns, 65 yards (7th in SEC), 6.5 AVG (7th in SEC), 33 long

Law: 7 returns, 175 yards, 25.00 AVG (4th in SEC), 30 long

Advantage: Tennessee

How can you not give the advantage to Tennessee after Dee Williams housed a punt last week? He and Texas A&M’s Ainias Smith are far and away the best two punt returners in the SEC, and Williams showcased the ability to make game-changing plays with his touchdown last week. It was the reason Tennessee won the game.

As Tennessee continues to get into lower scoring, run the ball and play defense type of games, big plays from Williams become much more significant.

Total Score:

Tennessee: 4 (RB, OL, DL, ST)

Alabama: 3 (QB, WR, DBs)

Tie: 1

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