Saturday's SEC on CBS Game of the Week could very well be a preview of the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta at the end of the season.
Alabama will hit the road to face Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in a matchup of current division leaders and favorites. The Volunteers are looking to avoid a two-game losing skid after falling short at Texas A&M last week in overtime, while Alabama will try to once again assert its dominance over the other perceived contenders in the SEC.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 15
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Alabama: The Alabama defense has looked almost vulnerable in a pair of conference games this season. Ole Miss put up 43 points on the Tide, and last week, Arkansas got to 30. Those two results feel very un-Alabama like, but even in those games when they appear vulnerable, the defense has produced two defensive touchdowns in each.
Against Ole Miss, it was a pair of fumble return touchdowns. Against Arkansas, it was a fumble return and a pick-six. No team scores more off of turnovers than Alabama, and Tennessee turned it over seven times against Texas A&M. In other words, the Vols can be turned over, and no defense is better at capitalizing than the one they will face Saturday. The Tide's defense has tons of playmakers and talent, but they've showed that they will allow big plays at times. If that's the case again against Tennessee, they'll need to also continue to put defensive points on the board.
Tennessee: Can the Vols hold onto the football? There are a lot of things that Tennessee did well against Texas A&M, but if ball security doesn't improve against Alabama, none of it matters. As noted above, Alabama turns turnovers into points immediately and Tennessee won't have the margin for error to allow the Tide to score quick, easy points. To challenge Alabama, you have to make the Tide's offense drive the ball down the field and put up points consistently. It's the defense's responsibility to keep them out of the end zone, but it's the offense's job not to give Alabama a short field or direct points on the board.
Players to watch
Damien Harris, RB, Alabama: Harris had a big day against Arkansas, and after seeing what Trayveon Williams did against Tennessee, Harris could have another great showing on Saturday. Tennessee's defense is banged up and the interior of the line took a hit with the dismissal of senior Danny O'Brien. Harris could take advantage of the depth issues the Vols have and be a key factor in Alabama's offense having another very successful afternoon.
Josh Dobbs, QB, Tennessee: Jalen Hurd is supposed to be back in action this week, but all eyes will be on Dobbs. He had a rough go of it with turnovers against Texas A&M, negating a lot of really good things he did in that game. His ability to shake off that performance and play smart football against Alabama will be crucial. He's a problem for defenses when he's making good reads, both as a passer and a runner, but Alabama's secondary is going to be hunting for interceptions if he's not careful with his passes. A smart, strong Dobbs performance this week would go a long way towards the Vols pulling the upset.
Matchup to watch
Jalen Hurts vs. Tennessee's front seven: Jalen Hurts was a monster against Arkansas last week. He picked apart the secondary for 253 yards on 13-of-17 completions, his best passing performance of the season. It's clear that Hurts' comfort in the offense is getting to a scary place for opposing defenses and Lane Kiffin is figuring out how to call plays to put Hurts in the best positions to succeed.
Tennessee's front seven is going to have their hands full with Hurts as he's a terrifying dual threat. The Vols' defensive line has to pressure Hurts but do so with gap discipline to make sure they don't offer him running lanes. The linebackers will be stressed by his ability to run and also Alabama's propensity for throwing shorter routes with Hurts at quarterback.
While Hurts will place a lot of stress on the Vols defense, Derek Barnett is as fearsome as they come from his defensive end spot. If he can heat up Hurts with pressure and force him into hurried throws, there could be turnover potential for Tennessee.