After shutting down a couple of high-powered offenses each of the last two weeks, Alabama's formidable defense now sets its sights on dismantling a Vanderbilt unit that was held below 80 yards in its last game. If that isn't enough of an obstacle for the Commodores, they're also trying to end more than 25 years of frustration in this one-sided series.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide try to avoid a letdown and seek their 21st straight win over Vanderbilt on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) was expecting to be tested in last Saturday's visit to then-No. 12 Florida, but Nick Saban's team had little trouble in this early meeting between conference heavyweights, winning 38-10.
One week after holding an Arkansas team that came in ranked 11th in the FBS in total offense to 226 yards in a 38-14 victory Sept. 24, the Tide limited the Gators to 15 rushing yards. Florida came in leading the SEC in rushing at 259.0 yards per game, but was no match for an Alabama team that leads the FBS in rush defense at 39.6 yards per contest.
"As far as rushing (defense) we pride ourselves week-in and week-out on that," junior linebacker Nico Johnson. "We're just going to make the offense one dimensional and then we'll go from there."
The Tide managed to shut down the Gators despite linebacker C.J. Mosley, one of the defense's top players, sitting out with an elbow injury. Saban said Mosley's status is uncertain for this game, although, it doesn't seem his presence would make much of a difference Saturday.
Vanderbilt (3-1, 1-1), loser of 11 straight games to Top 25 opponents, is ranked 117th out of 120 FBS schools in total offense at 258.0 yards.
The Commodores' average took a substantial hit after mustering just 77 total yards in a 21-3 loss to then-No. 12 South Carolina on Sept. 24, their fewest yards since at least 1996. They also finished with five first downs, went 1-of-14 on third down conversions and Larry Smith was sacked six times. Smith left in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury but is not expected to miss this game.
"We've got a long ways to go, we got a lot of work to do,'' first-year Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said.
The Commodores were off last Saturday, giving them an extra week to prepare for the daunting challenge of ending a 20-game losing streak to the Tide.
Alabama's last loss in the series on Sept. 29, 1984, is its lone defeat in 35 meetings since 1969. The teams haven't met since the Tide's 24-10 win at Vanderbilt on Sept. 8, 2007, and Alabama is 15-1 against the Commodores at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"They're a very good team and we just have to play our game," Vanderbilt defensive end Walker May said. "We're going to come out and do our thing on defense and offense."
That means trying to move the ball on the Tide's vaunted defense and finding a way to slow down running back Trent Richardson, who is receiving some Heisman Trophy attention.
Richardson is fourth in the FBS in both rushing yards (622) and touchdowns (10). He ran for 181 yards and scored twice last weekend against a Florida defense that was tied for fifth in the FBS in rush defense at 56.5 yards per game.
"As the offensive line, I think we played our best game as a unit, so I'm really proud of that," left tackle Barrett Jones said. "It gives us confidence going into the next few weeks, and it's something we can grow on."
With an offense that revolves around Richardson, Alabama, winner of 25 straight games over unranked opponents, doesn't need to rely much on the arm of quarterback AJ McCarron. That could be a good thing heading into this week, as Vanderbilt leads the FBS with 14 interceptions despite playing one fewer game than most teams.
Although the Commodores seem unlikely to pull off an upset in Tuscaloosa, the Tide don't want a repeat of a year ago. Alabama also started last season with five straight victories before suffering a 35-21 loss at then-No. 19 South Carolina in its sixth game.
"We got beat by South Carolina around this time last year," Johnson said. "We just want to finish this year. We're hungry. We've got a chip on our shoulder."