Oct. 18, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri isn't the only member of the Tennessee coaching staff that is going up against a team he has spent a lot of time with. UT cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley also spent two seasons with Alabama as a defensive assistant from 2010-11, winning the national championship in his final year in Tuscaloosa working alongside Sunseri.
Despite their close connections with Alabama, Ansley knows his impact on the game will be limited to his work on the sidelines.
"Me and Coach Sal aren't going to go out there and make any plays," Ansley said. "These kids have to believe in their abilities and believe they can beat this team. I think they do. We have to go to there and play good football. This is a good football team coming in here this weekend."
Ansley will have a chance to catch up with many of his former counterparts, but once the game kicks off it will be business as usual.
"I am going to talk to them during pregame but that is about it," Ansley said. "I am not going to be able to talk to Coach Saban but I will talk to most of the assistants. It is going to be like any game when you have friends that coach in the SEC. You go up there and see how they are doing, how their families are doing, and get ready for the game."
Along with Ansley and Sunseri, another member of the Vol staff will be facing his former school -- one who wore the crimson and white. Nick Gentry, who serves as the Vols administrative intern on defense, graduated from Alabama a few months ago and played 37 games in four seasons with the Tide, recording 45 tackles, 5.5 sacks and eight quarterback hurries.
On Saturday, the Tennessee trio will have only one objective: helping the Vols find a way to claim a win over the No. 1 team in the land.
BEEN THERE, DONE THATTennessee running backs coach Jay Graham is no stranger to the UT-Alabama rivalry.
A four-year letter winner for the Vols from 1993-96, Graham played on the Third Saturday in October four times, helping lead the Big Orange to wins in his junior and senior seasons.
Although Tennessee enters Saturday's game without a win in the rivalry since 2006, Graham knows streaks like that are meant to be broken. In fact, his first win over the Tide - a 41-14 victory in Birmingham - broke a streak of nine consecutive UT losses and provided him with memories that will last a lifetime.
"It was weight lifted off of our shoulders," Graham said. "It had been [nine] years since we won. It was a great experience. Just to see our fans in the corner of the end zone after that game was a special thing. I will remember it for the rest of my life."
Before that win, and a 20-13 victory the following year in Knoxville, Graham had to endure defeat first as the Vols dropped a 17-13 decision in 1994. The feeling after that game is something else he will never forget.
"I was hurt," Graham said. "I went home and didn't go to sleep. It hurt. That is the thing about the rivalry, you play so hard, you hit hard and play so fast. You want to win that game and it just hurts that much more."
Graham has made sure to communicate the importance of the rivalry game to this year's Tennessee squad.
"We have talked about it and they understand," Graham said. "The energy in practice and everything, they are excited about this opportunity. We get to play against our rival and they are also number one in the country, so those are two things you should get excited about going into the game."
THE TOUGHEST TESTThis year's version of the "Third Saturday in October" will pit the number one defense in America against one of the top offensive lines in the country.
According to offensive line coach Sam Pittman, the starting five of Antonio Richardson, Dallas Thomas, James Stone, Zach Fulton and Ja'Wuan James will get the majority of the snaps against Alabama this week. And for good reason.
The Tennessee offensive line, which has allowed just three sacks this season, has set the tone up front this season, helping the Vols average 482.3 yards of total offense, 183.3 yards of which have come from the ground game.
"We don't want a lot of rotation on our guys because we want to feel what they are doing on defense and make sure we can relate to the calls and get everything going on what we are supposed to get going," Pittman said. "We like guys who have seen something happen already before. I feel like they have to exchange defensive lineman more than they exchange offensive lineman because they have to go further than we do."
The line will face its toughest opponent to date in Alabama, which enters the game allowing just 181.2 yards per game. The Crimson Tide has held its opponents to just eight red zone trips this year and a mere six touchdowns through six games.
"They are not only the number one team, they are the number one defense," Pittman said. "They have a lot of talent and a lot of people. They play a lot of different guys and they are big, all of them are pretty good size guys. They are well coached and they play well with their hands.
"They play relentlessly and they can because they can substitute and get fresh people out there all the time, so we certainly are excited about the challenge. I am glad we are not playing them week one, I am glad we are playing them week seven as we have progressed a little bit. We know we have our work cut out for us but we are really excited about going and playing Alabama."
Tennessee's biggest challenge will come on the ground. The Vols rushed for 214 yards last week against Mississippi State, but the line will face a defense that allowed just three total rushing yards against Missouri in its last contest.
"Jay Graham has done such a nice job with the running backs," Pittman said. "They run hard. I didn't even know that we had a back or two hurt, I just thought Jay was rotating backs and all that. Of course, Devrin Young came in and ran really hard."
The Vols will have to play hard for four complete quarters this week against their toughest competition in 2012.
"We are just getting better every week that is the whole thing," Pittman said. "Regardless of the competition we just get better every week. Maybe here at the end of the fourth quarter we will start winning these games."