KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – One of the most heated rivalries in college football throughout the years is back at Rocky Top this Saturday as Tennessee prepares to host No. 1 Alabama (7 p.m. on ESPN).
The Vols, who have more wins over the Crimson Tide (37) than any other team in the country, know that they have a daunting task ahead of them, but are ready to tackle the challenge head on.
“We all know about Alabama,” UT head coach Derek Dooley said. “They have been the standard of college football for the last four years. It is a good opportunity for our players and we’ve gone toe-to-toe with all of the teams [we have played] so far. Let’s see if we can do it against the best team in college football.
“We feel like we are pretty good on offense and they are the best defense in college football. I think all of our guys are really excited about seeing if we can go toe-to-toe with them.”
Tennessee is quite aware of everything Alabama has accomplished this season, but is more concerned about getting its own team right than focusing on factors it can’t change.
“There are really not [any weaknesses with Alabama],” Dooley said. “They have absolutely annihilated everybody they have played, physically and on the scoreboard. They are deep, they are talented. They just change jersey numbers every year, but the guys all look the same. My biggest concern is us and I mean that. If we can go out and play to our capacity for 60 minutes, we can find ourselves right in that position that we have been in every week and I believe that.”
While every year in the rivalry brings its own unique set of triumphs and challenges, one thing that has seemed to remain constant in recent seasons is the talent on the Alabama roster.
“They sign the same guys every year, just different names,” Dooley said. “And they draft, we recruit. And they get the first 25 picks of the draft.”
Although the Tide will be the third of four consecutive ranked opponents for the Big Orange, don’t expect them to ask for any sympathy. Instead, the Vols are embracing the opportunity to prove themselves against the best the nation has to offer.
“This is the SEC so if you are looking for an easy way through, there isn’t one,” Dooley said. “Our players are excited about playing these teams, they are. They had something to prove coming into this year, we got kicked around in this league the last two years. We haven’t gotten the results that we want, but we are playing better. We certainly are not on that one little area that we have to fix, but what we have to do is say, ‘Can we do it every week?’ This is a heck of a challenge because now it is everybody getting in the tank, we have the number one team in the country, all that stuff. Let’s go out there and compete and see what we’ve got.”
THIRD SATURDAY IN OCTOBER
Knoxville native Daniel Hood has been around the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry all of his life and can remember back to his childhood when it comes to the third Saturday in October.
“It meant everything,” said Hood, who graduated from Knoxville Catholic. “I think it was Manning that directed the band when we beat Alabama. I’m excited for it. Talking with Condredge, I don’t think he ever beat Bama.
“To see what it means to him and people like that. I think they said that any time they have a letterman’s meeting, they always start out with `stand up if you beat Alabama.’ So that’s just the nature of the Tennessee history.”
Fellow Knoxville native Devrin Young knows how pivotal the battle with Alabama is.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Young said. “It’s one of the biggest rivalries in all of college football. I’m just blessed and happy I get to play in it. I’ve been playing this game for a long time, since I’ve been like 5 years old. I know how it goes by now.”
Adding to the rivalry is the fact that Alabama enters this game ranked as the No. 1 team in the country, the fourth time the two teams have met when the Crimson Tide was in the number one spot.
For Hood, it’s why he came to Tennessee to play football.
“That’s part of the SEC,” Hood said. “That’s why we all came here, to play the best. This year, we’ve played against Florida, a top five team, Alabama, Georgia, we’ll play against South Carolina. So it’s competitive and it’s the type of atmosphere we live for.”
AN IMPORTANT TRADITION
For Knoxville natives Daniel Hood and Devrin Young, the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry is big. For Tennessee football legacy Ben Bartholomew, it’s personal.
“This game for everybody is a little more personal than any other games,” said Bartholomew. “It’s such a rich tradition. It’s the number one team in the nation, so you have to bring everything you have.”
Bartholomew’s brother Will played at Tennessee from 1998-01 and was a captain of the Vols, his grandfather Sam donned the Big Orange from 1937-39. Ben knows how much this game means.
“You know, I think some of the new guys don’t exactly know what is happening, but I think all the guys that have been around know what’s up,” said Bartholomew. “This is a personal game and it’s between us and them. It’s rivalry that goes back for a long time. It’s real serious.”
Like his brother and grandfather before him, Bartholomew stands in the backfield for the Vols, he just packs a bigger punch. Which will come in handy against Alabama’s defense.
“They are a big strong team,” said Bartholomew. “Their linebackers like to stand in there and take hits. It’s a little different than most other teams. They come out to compete so you have to bring all you have.”
Bartholomew is coming off a career game against Mississippi State where he recorded his first TD as a Vol. When he faces Alabama Saturday, he will bring all he has.
“It’s exciting,” Bartholomew said. “It’s why someone comes to Tennessee. You get to play the number one team in the nation. Tennessee and Alabama, it doesn’t get any better than that. I know from being the guy that’s been around, we know the tradition and we’re excited about it. The team just focuses on the family and everybody inside. We’re not really worried about outside opinions. It’s Tennessee and Alabama and the expectation is to win, no matter what.”
WHO IS RUNNING THE BALL?
How does an offensive line know when it is running the ball so well that it is in its own world?
When the line doesn’t even realize which backs are running the ball behind them.
That was the case on Saturday at Mississippi State. Even when the Vols were on their third back of the game with injuries to starter Rajion Neal and backup Marlin Lane, Ja’Wuan James said he wasn’t even aware that Devrin Young was as the team’s primary tailback.
“As an offensive line we didn’t even know that they were hurt,” said James. “Devrin came in we didn’t miss a beat, he was running hard.”
The line helped the Vols amass 213 yards on the ground, the team’s most in an SEC game since 2009, when UT finished the regular-season with 222 against Kentucky.
The line is feeling great about its effort so many areas. UT is running for 183.3 yards game and has allowed just three sacks all season — third fewest in the nation.
“Confidence level is we can run against anybody and pass against about anybody.”
James feels the increase in carries has helped the line excel as the Vols are more than doubling their rushing numbers from a year ago.
“It helps that we have been running pretty good,” said James. “Coach Chaney believes in us and the running backs believe in us so that helps.”
In his first season at Tennessee, Cordarrelle Patterson has taken over in all facets of the game.
Listed as a wide receiver on the roster, Patterson has played some snaps at tailback, controlled end-arounds and is shining on special teams as a kick returner.
Against Mississippi State, the Rock Hill, S.C., native tied his career high with 195 all-purpose yards, highlighted by a 98-yard kick return for a touchdown, and finished with 57 yards rushing, 25 receiving and 113 kickoff return yards. Oh, and a tackle.
Patterson is pleased with his involvement.
“I am not sure how many ways they can get me involved,” Patterson said. “Coach Chaney has a big playbook and it is special to see how many things he can do to get me the ball. I am just going to hope there are more opportunities for me to showcase myself.”
Showcase he has.
On Saturday, Patterson put his a knack for making big plays when a play appears to be dead on full display, turning what looked like a 10-yard loss on an end-around into a 34-yard gain.
“When I was running, I thought `I’m going to go out of bounds and just have to get to the next play’,” Patterson said. “Then I saw a crease on the backside, took it, hit it and tried to see what I could do with it.
“Going back to the kickoff, I saw a hole so I just hit it and on the run I saw a crease so I tried to get around and make a play.”
Patterson made a lot of big plays Saturday and, in doing so, did what he likes to do best. Showcase his talent.
“It feels pretty good getting out there and showing my talent and doing different things,” Patterson said. “I wasn’t surprised [when I went in to run]. I had been begging them all week to give me a little toss or something to show what I can do.”
JUNIOR WR CORDARRELLE PATTERSON
(On Tyler Bray blocking for him)
“I saw him out there blocking. It doesn’t surprise me. A week ago he blocked good against Georgia and helped me out with a block.”
(On being second in the country in all-purpose yards)
“I haven’t thought about it but it would be pretty amazing to lead the country and be a leader in that. Being back there and showcasing yourself and the things that you can do when you get the ball.”
(On kick returns)
“You can’t coach that. They can get you ready to go but you just have to go out there and be yourself when you get the ball.”
(On playing both running back and wide receiver)
“When you are a running back, everyone is just coming after you and you are about to get hit. When you are a receiver there is more open space, you can make a move and get free.”
SOPHOMORE OL ANTONIO RICHARDSON
(On having VFL attitude/his post-game tweet)
“The thing is no matter how much adversity you face, you have to come in every week with the mindset to get better. You can’t just drag around. I just wanted to let the fans know and everybody on the team know that we have to continue to get better. You are going to face adversity, things are going to happen. We’ve lost three SEC games and in my opinion I think we were better than all three of them, but you know sometime it doesn’t go your way. We just got to keep getting better.”
(On what’s working with the O-Line)
“Nobody is making mental errors. We are getting five guys on a hat, that’s the difference. I feel like we’ve got the talent. This is my second year but before I got here, we had the same guys and same personnel. You know it’s been there.”
(On running against Alabama front)
“We’ve seen the front they run; our defense runs it, so we see it every day. You can’t sugarcoat it, they’re good. I just feel like we come in there and just do what we have to do, if we get our five on their five we’re going to be successful.”
(On what makes Bama defense good)
“They all rally to the ball and they are technically sound. They are very well coached. They get eleven guys to the ball; that’s one thing I have noticed about them is they all fly to the ball. They are very powerful and have a really good base across the front seven so that’s what makes them pretty good.”
RS SENIOR FB BEN BARTHOLOMEW
(On maintaining confidence against Alabama)
“I definitely think there’s confidence. Our offense knows our capabilities and we expect greatness and we expect to do it against anybody. It’s about our team and not theirs.”
(On the offensive line)
“The offensive line is doing a really great job communicating and getting downfield blocks. The receivers are doing well blocking too. The running backs are running harder than ever and its really showed out.”
(On postgame atmosphere)
“You know, we’re coming together as a family. We’re all each other has and were playing for each other. It doesn’t really matter what happens outside the team, but we’re going to come together and be the best we can be the rest of the season. Everyone treats it differently. I think some people are starting to watch film and correcting already. Some people are focusing on what they did and how they can get better. Overall I think we’ve realized we have to come together as a team and start playing for each other.”
(On moving forward to Alabama)
“It’s hard not coming away with these tough losses, it’s really hard. But nothings better than having Alabama, the number one team in the nation, coming in. it just excites the whole team so we’re all practicing hard. Losses are hard, but I think we did a lot of good things, and we’re going to keep building off that. I think the team’s going to be better. Definitely, you can see in the o-line, the running backs, the receivers, quarterbacks, everyone is having a great time out there. We’re playing Tennessee football and I think if we can execute our plays, I don’t think anybody can stand with us.”
JUNIOR OL JA’WUAN JAMES
(On why Alabama’s defense is strong)
“Their scheme and they have the pieces to the puzzle for that scheme. They have some big guys and they have depth.”
(On what has changed from this time last year until now)
“We felt like we knew we could we just needed to go out and prove to everybody that we could. The difference is experience and Coach Pittman.”
(On Coach Pittman)
“It can make a lot of difference, it changes the whole room, it changes everything. It has help and it is seen on the field.”
“He is more personable with us and he has our room excited to go out there and have fun out there playing football. We are having more fun this year. His energy and what he is allowing us to do out there. He is allowing us to play fast, we just go out there and play.”
JUNIOR K MICHAEL PALARDY
(On getting tiresome in a game)
“No, I love it. I love doing everything and being out on the field as much as I can possibly be. I did it last year against Alabama and probably going to do the same thing against Alabama. I love it. I love being out there and doing everything I can to help the team out.”
(On being surprised by staying in the whole Mississippi State)
“No, it is the way the cookie crumbles. It happened to be that my name was called and I had to go out there and perform. I think I did a pretty good job. Trying to carry it over into this week and whatever coaching decisions and depth chart decisions are made by the coaches, that’s what’s going to happen and I have to just go with it.”
(On facing Alabama)
“I’m not worried about rankings or hype or anything like that. I’m here to come out and the team’s here to come out and do the best we can and play to our ability. We come out on top, we come out on top and we play the way we can. That’s the way we want to do it. We come out here from a special teams standpoint and work just as hard, if not harder, and keep improving every week and doing what we can.”
RS JUNIOR DL DANIEL HOOD
(On Alabama’s offensive line)
Big, physical. Probably the biggest offensive line compared to ours. Big guys that love to run blocks. It seems like that’s all they do. It’ll be a good game for us.”
(On Alabama’s offense)
“They have a great center, a smart guy who gets the offense going that way. The guards are really physical, some of the biggest tackles in the SEC. They consistently have receivers who make plays. That’s kind of the nature of playing Bama, but it looks fine. I think we’re going to have a game plan for them.”
(On the defense’s confidence level)
“I think it’s good. The good thing is we’ve seen what we can do when we stay in this game. When we make the right plays, focus on our assignments and do things like that. We put together stretches like that in the second and fourth quarter of Georgia, the third quarter against Mississippi State. So now we just have to go out and perfect it and make that all four quarters.”
(On consistent stretches)
Having the right guys and trusting the person beside you that he’s going to do his job. You’re not worrying about if they make a late call to us and switch up pressure from the right to the left, I can trust that Big Dan (McCullers) is going to go to the right and he’s going to handle it so I don’t’ have to worry about anything else but my technique. I know the linebackers will fit us and they’re the right guys on the blitz. It’s just trusting everybody around us and playing technique.”
(On Alabama being No. 1)
I could see why they would be. I haven’t seen much of their defense or special teams. All I can talk about is their offense. From what I’ve seen this far, they’ve got one of the better offense that well play against. Really similar to Florida. Just bigger guys and really physical and been in the system longer.”
SOPHMORE TB DEVRIN YOUNG
(On Coach Dooley)
“Coach Dooley really cares about this program and cares about us individually. It’s one of the things you can point out: all the hours he puts in, the VFL program. He cares about everything. It’s easy to get sidetracked sometimes, but we’re going to ignore that and focus on this week.”
(On loss to Mississippi State)
“It was really disappointing, especially for me. I personally felt like I might have lost the game for us with that key fumble. It hurt me real bad. I was real sad about that loss. We’re given 24 hours to be sad about it, and then it’s time to move on.”
(On Tennessee’s fans)
“Being from here, you know how passionate the fans are and how much love they have for this program. It happens. We love it when they’re cheering for us, but when they’re emotional like that, it’s easy to be like ‘why are they being like this,’ but in the end, they’re there for us all the way.”
(On efficiency of running the ball against Alabama)
“I feel like we can run against anybody. Look at the lineman we have, the receivers we have, I feel like we can run against anybody at any time. Alabama has a great defense obviously, but if we execute our game plan it’s going to show.”
SOPHOMORE LB A.J. JOHNSON
(On Mississippi State game)
“I believe we executed our plays, the play calling went well, but we just messed up on a couple of them and they just outplayed us. They made good plays and we didn’t stop them.”
(On “not getting the job done”)
“Maybe someone isn’t getting to their gap on one play or maybe someone isn’t sealing the edge on another. It’s just the little things that we have to correct.”
(On his 21-tackle career game)
“I just played my responsibilities, fit the gaps and then try to get to the ball. I just kept hustling every play and jumping into piles.”