Alabama prepares for homecoming game against Tennessee

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

If there’s a team that can bounce back from a loss, it’s Alabama. 

Alabama traveled to Starkville, Mississippi, and defeated the Mississippi State Bulldogs 49-9 on Oct. 16. Now, the team hopes to keep that momentum going when they face Tennessee on Oct. 23 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

Feels Good to Be Back

In a matchup as historic as this one, having the home-field advantage is crucial for either team. 

This season, that advantage goes to the Crimson Tide. 

After a two-game road trip to College Station, Texas, and Starkville, the Crimson Tide will return to Bryant-Denny Stadium. This weekend’s game is the first of a four-game homestand to close out the 2021 regular season. 

The Crimson Tide has played in front of plenty of electric atmospheres. More than 90,000 fans in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium watched the then-top-ranked team defeat the Gators in Gainesville, Florida, for the first time in a decade. More than 100,000 fans — the second-largest crowd in Kyle Field’s history — watched the then-top-ranked Crimson Tide fall to the Aggies. 

Last Saturday, 53,796 fans rang their cowbells all night in Davis Wade Stadium, despite the Crimson Tide rolling over the Bulldogs. 

No matter the location of the game, Alabama draws a large crowd, but this may not be the case Saturday. 

The Volunteers haven’t beat the Crimson Tide since 2006, one year before Alabama head coach Nick Saban was hired. Prior to that, Tennessee won 10 of the 12 matchups dating back to 1995. 

Since Saban was hired, the Crimson Tide has outscored the Volunteers 537-177. Tennessee has only scored 20 or more points twice during this stretch, and Alabama has only been held under 29 points twice. 

There is not much to encourage Tennessee fans to make the almost five-hour drive to Tuscaloosa. This game will be a stark contrast to last week for Tennessee. A sold-out Neyland Stadium watched the Volunteers fall to Ole Miss, 31-26. 

The orange sea will turn into crimson on Saturday. 

Tennessee will be entering another electric environment. The Alabama crowd will be rocking all night, and the Volunteers must prepare for it. 

“With a crowd that’s going against them, that’s gonna be tough,” said Josh Lane, sports editor for the Daily Beacon. “You’ll have your usual miscommunication on counts, hard counts, some maybe delays of game, but I don’t think it’ll be anything necessarily out of the ordinary.”  

Lane thinks Tennessee will struggle to overcome the noise and challenge of Alabama. 

Three of Tennessee’s four wins came in front of pro-Tennessee crowds. Alabama has won in energetic home and away environments. Managing the noise will be necessary on Saturday. 

Even with the recent lopsided nature of the rivalry, Saban still wants the crowd and players to be excited. 

“I would think, because we’re playing Tennessee and it’s a rivalry game and playing at home and haven’t been home for a while, that everybody should be really excited about this game,” Saban said.  

Need for Speed

Alabama has faced two mobile quarterbacks in Matt Corral and Emory Jones. They tamed Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach’s air-raid offense. They kept the up-tempo and explosive Rebels offense to 21 points. 

Alabama’s defense has handled most obstacles that opposing offenses have created, and they will face yet another talented offense.

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel has turned the Volunteers’ offense into an explosive powerhouse. During his time as an offensive coordinator and head coach in college football, Heupel’s offenses have been among the top in the conferences and the nation. 

This year is no different.   

“Their offense is scoring 39 points a game, which is third in the SEC,” Saban said. 

Tennessee is ranked 22nd nationally in team passing efficiency, 11th in scoring offense and ninth in yards per attempt. The Volunteers are eighth — five spots below Alabama — in third-down percentage. 

Despite their 4-3 record, Tennessee poses a formidable challenge for the Alabama defense. Luckily, the Crimson Tide is coming off their best defensive performance. 

Against the Bulldogs, Alabama collected seven sacks — their highest total of the season. Linebacker Will Anderson Jr. had four of the seven. The Crimson Tide held the Bulldogs to just three field goals and eight plays of 15 yards or more. 

The Volunteers must keep their foot on the gas against Alabama. 

“If Tennessee doesn’t have that tempo — that’s kind of been their identity — then they don’t really have much,” Lane said. 

Alabama hasis one of the best defenses in the nation — 16th in the nation — but there isn’t much else for the Volunteers to try.

Rhythm is imperative for an up-tempo offense, so expect the Crimson Tide to disrupt that rhythm with sacks, quarterback pressures and covering the sideline game.

With two talented offenses, a historic rivalry game and homecoming festivities, this game has the potential to be fun for at least one of the crowds.