It's undeniable the Tide's performance against the Aggies last Saturday was dominant. It was a bloodbath. The spirit and emotion in Bama's players was thrilling (almost inspiring) to watch. In fact, many people have let it completely erase the less than stellar play we saw against Arkansas and the loss to Ole Miss. This weekend will be the ultimate test to see if Alabama can maintain that emotion on the road and continue down the danger filled path that is the SEC WEST, en route to a possible appearance in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
"But, why?," you may ask. Don't you remember UT lost to the dysfunctional Florida Gators? Don't you remember QB Justin Worley's 3 interceptions he threw last Saturday against the Rebels? But, all of that is nothing more than a distant bad dream to VOLnation when the Tide rolls in to the Marble City this weekend. Here's why:
Simply put, Bama has not performed on the road against SEC foes so far this season. In fact, until the Landon Collins pick at the end of the game against the hogs you could say the performances have been completely void of emotion. UT can capitalize on this, and Blake Sims has to be their target. He's been shaky all season on the road. Lane Kiffin (remember him Vol fans? that 4-4 conference record in '09 isn't looking so bad anymore) stated this past week that his on-field impact is greatly diminished on the road which could account for the stark difference of play from Sims and the offense away from Bryant-Denney. For whatever reason Sims play under pressure on the road has not instilled confidence that this offense can hit on all cylinders in enemy confines. The Vols are not the Landshark Buzzsaw that chewed Bama up in Oxford, but after seeing the the Vols' D play pretty tough ball against Ole Miss and the Gators, they have a shot to disrupt the Bama attack, especially early. For the Vols to have a chance AJ Johnson and the Big Orange D must play lights out by stopping the run, Amari Cooper, and keeping Sims in the pocket.
It's the offense that needs work, and that's been plain to see all season. The beleaguered O-line that has been rife with injury and youth and has devastated Vols chances to put up a W in the SEC over the past month. However, you can bet your bottom dollar that Butch Jones has been at the drawing board all week. Vols fans better hope it's Gus Malzahn a la 2009 Iron Bowl caliber trickery and scheming, because we've seen the Bama D mature the last two weeks. Trying to figure out how they can keep players like Xavier Dickson and Jarran Reed from running through the UT front like Chipotle through these Tennessee fans will be no small task.
Justin Worley must execute flawlessly and can have absolutely ZERO turn-overs in this game. No mistakes gives them a chance to dry up the Tide for the first time since the year Twitter was invented... 2006. This team is young and has proven itself resilient. But, on The ThirdSaturday in October the weight of the game must fall on the older playmakers, like A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt, and the aforementioned Worley to lead their school to what would arguably be their biggest victory in almost a decade.
The X-factor for this game is certainly going to be the fans tailgating all day on the banks of the Tennessee, letting bourbon run through their veins as the reminisce about their hatred for Kiffin. Neyland must be absolutely rocking and is expected to be for Lane Kiffin's return to Knoxville and the fans he spurned. None of these Vols were recruited by the Kiffster, and Hell, Butch Jones has never even met the guy, but the players of this once proud program know what this game means to their legacy, and the next step in Butch Jones "Brick by Brick" rebuilding process.
The Tide must continue to "keep running" as Saban told them last week if they want to beat Jones and his team like Vegas and everyone else expects them to. They can't let big upcoming games (a visit to Death Valley and a homer with Miss. St.) mess with their focus this week, and I don't expect them to, but if it does happen the Crimson Tide Nation may come apart at the seams and turn orange on this "Third Saturday in October."