Tennessee-Alabama Preview

The Associated Press

Nick Saban's three national championship teams with Alabama have relied heavily on the running game.

This season is proving to be no different, and that's unlikely to change against Tennessee.

Saban will probably give the Volunteers a heavy dose of the ground attack as the top-ranked Crimson Tide look to continue their dominance of the "Third Saturday of October."

Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC) is aiming for a third straight BCS title and fourth in five years, and Saban appears to be using a familiar formula.

Saban's last three title teams included dominating rushing attacks that ranked either first or second in the conference, and those squads averaged nearly 2,995 yards while totaling a staggering 102 touchdowns.

This season, the running game is gaining serious momentum, thanks in large part to T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake.

They're a big reason the Crimson Tide are gaining 271.5 yards per game over the past four contests after averaging 132.0 in the first three.

In limited playing time, Yeldon and Drake only needed 18 combined carries to total 192 of Alabama's season-high 352 rushing yards in last Saturday's 52-0 win over Arkansas.

"I think those two guys have played well," Saban said. "Both tailbacks complement each other in terms of their style. One guy's a little bit faster (Drake). The other guy's more of an inside, make you miss, hard to tackle.

"I think the change of pace that the two guys complement each other with is really something that's good for our team. I think it's good for both of them as well."

The backfield tandem may be in for another big day since Alabama has averaged 174.5 rushing yards with 13 TDs during a six-game winning streak over the Volunteers (4-3, 1-2).

They rolled for 233 yards while averaging 5.2 per carry in a 44-13 victory at Tennessee on Oct. 20, 2012. That included 129 yards on 15 carries from Yeldon, who raced for two touchdowns.

Drake enters this meeting with 210 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries over the past two games.

The Volunteers' defense has shown few signs of being able to slow down the sophomores, ranking toward the bottom of the SEC by giving up an average of 181.7 rushing yards - 456 total over the past two games.

The unit will also have to contend with the efficiency of AJ McCarron, who has tossed 14 touchdowns with just three interceptions, including eight scores without throwing a pick over the past three games.

McCarron completed 17 of 22 passes for 306 yards and four TDs at Tennessee last year.

Despite the dim outlook for the Vols, first-year coach Butch Jones feels their future must include adopting Alabama's "next-guy-in" philosophy.

"I think the one thing you can say about their program - it's what we're building here at Tennessee - it's based on competition," Jones said. "It's a competitive environment every day you walk in there. That's what we're building here, kind of the next-guy-in mindset."

That will likely be on display in the secondary after Alabama lost strong safety Vinnie Sunseri for the rest of the season with a knee injury last weekend.

He's expected to be replaced by sophomore Landon Collins, who filled in at free safety during Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's two-game suspension earlier this season.

"For me, it's much easier because that's where I've been playing the whole season," Collins said. "I went back to strong this past game and just felt much more comfortable and I think played better."

Tennessee is looking to pull off another upset after Michael Palardy booted a 19-yard field goal as time expired to clinch a 23-21 win over then-No. 11 South Carolina last Saturday. The victory was the Vols' first in 20 meetings against a ranked opponent, and this week they'll be trying to end a 10-game losing streak on the road that dates to a 24-10 win over Vanderbilt on Nov. 20, 2010.

"First of all you shouldn't need any motivation," Jones told the team's official website. "You're playing the best of the best in the country. The next evolution of this football team is learning how to win on the road.

"We have to go on the road and play in some great hostile environments. Everything is your preparation and being mentally tough."

Justin Worley has struggled in Tennessee's two road games this season, completing 23 of 48 passes for 275 yards with two touchdowns and as many interceptions. However, he came up big last weekend, hitting Marquez North on a 39-yard pass to put the Volunteers in range for the decisive field goal.

He finished with 179 yards and a score while connecting on 19 of 34 passes, and will now face a Crimson Tide defense that yields an average of 176.7 passing yards - 167 total over the past two games.

What to Read Next