Tide D expecting stiff challenge from Vols’ O-line
For Tennessee this season, the big uglies are a big problem — for everyone else. And maybe for top-ranked Alabama on Saturday.
The Volunteers boast an offensive line the Jacksonville Jaguars likely envy. The group includes junior left tackle Antonio Richardson (6-foot-6, 327 pounds), senior left guard Alex Bullard (6-2, 302), senior center James Stone (6-3, 291), senior right guard Zach Fulton (6-5, 323) and senior right tackle Ja’Wuan James (6-6, 318).
These guys can run block. And they can pass protect. And, if needed, they could probably push Tennessee’s team bus all the way from Knoxville to Tuscaloosa.
“They’ve got over 100 starts — we added them up,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said this week of Tennessee’s offensive linemen. “So they’ve got a lot of experience. They’ve got two really, really good tackles — probably both NFL-type guys that will be high draft picks when their time comes. Their inside three guys play extremely well. So this is probably the best overall offensive line we’ve had to play against this year.”
In other words, Alabama’s front seven on defense — including guys like Ed Stinson, A’Shawn Robinson, Jeoffrey Pagan, Adrian Hubbard, Trey DePriest, C.J. Mosley and Xzavier Dickson — are gonna need solid performances Saturday.
“They’re done a good job in the run game,” Saban said of Tennessee’s front five. “They’ve rushed for over 200 yards a game, and they’ve only allowed eight sacks. So this is a very, very productive group and a very efficient group.”
And it’s a group that’s gotten better as the season has gone on, but, as Saban was quick to point out this week, the entire Tennessee squad has gotten better. The Volunteers are coming off their two best performances of the season — a near-upset of then-No. 6 Georgia and an upset of then-No. 11 South Carolina.
“I think their whole team has really improved,” Saban said. “They’re executing a lot better, and I think their O-line has, but I think their entire offensive team is playing extremely well.”
First-year Tennessee head coach Butch Jones noted too that Tennessee’s highly regarded offensive line has picked it up in recent weeks.
“We really challenged them coming in in terms of their level of physicality, their pad level, use of their hands and just overall finishing plays,” Jones said this week of his offensive linemen. “I didn’t think the first part of the season we really finished plays up front. I think the last couple of weeks we’ve continued to improve and our players are taking more pride in their level of physicality. We still have a lot of work to do in that area, but we’re finishing plays.”
Alabama (7-0 overall, 4-0 in SEC) and Tennessee (4-3, 1-2) meet Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium with kickoff set for 2:30 p.m. CDT. CBS will televise the game.
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