Oct. 15, 2012
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 OCTOBERKnoxville 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."
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."
SHOWING OFFIn 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."
AN IMPORTANT TRADITIONFor 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."