~ from Tennessee Athletics/Sean Barows
With another big game looming this weekend, No. 6/8 Tennessee will look to build off its best all-around performance this season in a convincing victory over LSU and carry that momentum into Saturday’s top-10 showdown against No. 3/1 Alabama.
The Vols are coming off their best rushing performance of the year, totaling 263 yards on the ground in their 40-13 thumping of the Tigers down in Baton Rouge. Despite missing its starting left tackle, the offensive line was dominant in the win, allowing for junior running back Jabari Small to rush for a season-high 127 yards and two touchdowns.
“Anytime you can go into an away environment and run the ball, it’s big time,” junior center Cooper Mays said. “It helps when you have Hendon (Hooker) back there, he’s a good running quarterback, so that’s an extra threat to add. Just going out there doing our job, anytime you can go out there and execute it gives you good confidence going into the next week.”
UT knows in order to have success against the Crimson Tide’s talented front seven, they’ll have to bring that same mindset and mentality into the game.
“Alabama is always going to have a really good front seven as far as I’m concerned, and especially with the recent history and everything,” Mays said. “They’ve just got a lot of big guys that can run (and are) athletic. Just being able to fly around, they’re disciplined and they’re big guys that can play sideline to sideline.”
One thing that has helped the ground game be so effective is its ability to show different looks and change things up from week-to-week in order to keep defenses guessing.
“It helps a ton. Any time you can present eye candy or different ball carriers to a defense, it always kind of keeps you off balance,” running backs coach Jerry Mack said. “That doesn’t mean just the person back there standing next to the quarterback is always going to carry the ball, so it always presents a different picture for those guys.”
Much like the offensive line group, Tennessee’s defense is also coming off arguably its best performance of the year, racking up five sacks and nine tackles for loss while holding LSU to just 13 points.
Byron Young was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week after posting five tackles and a career-high 2.5 sacks to lead an impressive effort from the Vols’ front seven. The Big Orange know that it will take another strong effort from their front seven if they hope to knock off the undefeated Tide this weekend.
“We have to be conscientious of our path, we have to be conscientious of our footwork, we have to be conscientious of our eyes, our hat placement (and) pad level,” defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “That’s when all those little things matter. You know Alabama is not going to go out there and beat themselves. You have to strain, and you have to play well. That’s the only way to be competitive.”