(CBS Local)- Second-ranked Alabama passed its first major test of the season last weekend, pulling away from Georgia in the second half to win 41-24 and remain unbeaten on the season. Now, they head to Knoxville to face a Tennessee team that, after losing to Georgia two weeks ago, came unraveled last week in a blowout loss to Kentucky 34-7.
The matchup appears to be a game of teams heading in opposite directions, as the Tide have only continued to improve offensively while the Volunteers have regressed. College Football Today analyst Brian Jones was particularly impressed by the play of Mac Jones and the balance of Alabama’s offense last week.
“If you give him time, he’s going to pick you apart, because no one can stay hitched to these wide receivers. I thought Georgia would win the battle up front against Bama’s offensive line, the fact that they’re two deep and stay fresh, but that didn’t happen, especially in that second half. That Georgia defense did nothing in [the] way of getting to Mac Jones,” Jones said in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer. “Offensively, they had balance. You had a 400-yard passer, 150-yard rusher, and then you have those wide receivers. Back-to-back games where they really had a ton of balance on the offensive side of the ball.”
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Illustrative of that point, the Tide rank second in the country in passing offense (393 YPG) and first in yards per attempts (12.68). They also rank in the Top 40 of rushing offense (168.3 YPG) and yards per carry (4.61). The abundance of weapons at Jones’ disposal has continued the recent lineage of high-scoring, explosive Tide offenses. That would appear to present problems for the Vols, considering that they gave up 187 yards rushing and 4.2 yards per carry last week in the loss to the Wildcats.
The bigger problem for the Vols is on offense, where, after a solid start, senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has fallen apart. Since the start of the second half against Georgia, Guarantano has lost two fumbles and thrown three interceptions, including two pick sixes on back-to-back drives. Though Alabama’s defense has had more breakdowns than we would normally expect, one sure way to not give yourself a chance is turning the ball over. Jones puts it simply, if Tennessee can’t be effective running the ball, they’re in trouble.
“They are afraid to open up that offense obviously, because they don’t believe in that young man. So, if they’re running game isn’t clicking offensively you can forget about it, and that’s what happened last week. They (Kentucky) shut down the running game, and then they forced Guarantano into errors, a lot of them were ill advised,” Jones said. “He has to be smarter than that. Again, this is a guy long in the tooth, been there four years. You can’t be having boneheaded mistakes.”
Though the Tide’s run defense isn’t as dominant as it has been in years past, they have still held opponents under 4 yards per carry this season. Last week, against a strong Georgia running game, the Tide allowed just 3.4 yards per carry on 43 carries.
The game, known for its postgame victory cigars, has been dominated by the Tide since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, winning 13 straight dating back to 2007. And Jones sees no reason why the streak won’t continue this weekend.
“At some point, it’s pick your poison. I don’t know if they’re equipped to do that. I don’t know, can Tennessee bring anything to the table,” Jones said. “They don’t have the guys, the playmakers at wide receiver to effect change vs. Bama. I don’t know if the offensive line can push Bama’s defensive line around. It’s just going to be a tough row to hoe for Tennessee. I see three straight losses for them.”
Alabama plays Tennessee Saturday, October 24 @ 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.