Pasquali’s Pix: Crimson Tide to topple Vols in lower-scoring contest

Crimson Tide photos / Alabama football coach Nick Saban leads his Crimson Tide on the field before the 40-17 win over Mississippi State late last month in Starkville.
Crimson Tide photos / Alabama football coach Nick Saban leads his Crimson Tide on the field before the 40-17 win over Mississippi State late last month in Starkville.

The checklist of Alabama's football season so far has been unlike any other since Nick Saban got things rolling in 2008.

A loss in the second game, and a 10-point home defeat at that. Replacing a starting quarterback only to replace the replacement with the original starter. A 3-3 tie with South Florida deep into the third quarter, and being ranked outside the Associated Press top 10 before hosting Tennessee here in mid-October.

Even the Crimson Tide's two biggest wins to this point — the 24-10 home triumph over Ole Miss and the 26-20 victory at Texas A&M — were the result of rallies from halftime deficits, but this sudden change in Alabama's landscape has not been met with disdain from Saban.

In fact, I believe this has been one of his more favorable experiences in a career filled with success.

"This has been a very enjoyable but challenging year," Saban said. "We've got a different kind of team, and they've shown great resiliency in terms of how they've competed in games. We continue to have a lot of things that we can correct as coaches to try and help us continue to make progress, and I want the players to look forward in a positive way.

"I kind of use the analogy that if you start off bench pressing 200 pounds and your goal is to bench press 300, if you get to 250, you've made improvement and progress, but you still want to be motivated to get to your goal."

The lofty expectations that annually accompany this program were not quite as prevalent after Alabama lost quarterback Bryce Young, edge rusher Will Anderson and running back Jahmyr Gibbs within the first 12 picks of April's NFL draft, and the biggest upside to not winning 52-7 each week like so many Tide teams have under Saban is that victories can be appreciated more.

"What I want for our players is for them to enjoy wins," Saban said. "When you beat another team, especially in our league, you should enjoy that and you should feel good about that. You shouldn't be relieved that you won the game, whether that's from expectations and whoever creates those.

"I don't think relief syndrome is a good emotional state to be in. You want to feel like if you beat teams, you should be happy about it while also being mature about things you need to correct."

Jimbo Fisher has lost to Alabama 26-20 and to Tennessee 20-13 the past two weekends, so how does he see Saturday's showdown in Tuscaloosa?

"Defensively, both of them have really good fronts, and their 'backers are active, and their secondaries cover well," the Texas A&M coach said. "Offensively, Alabama is not as much no-huddle, and I thought Tennessee's backs were excellent, and their quarterback is big and strong. Alabama has a little different approach in how they go about their offense, but they're still very skilled with very good receivers.

"Both games were one-score games, and they were both very physical. Their kicking games are very sound. It should be a heck of a football game."

Tennessee won last year's thriller 52-49, but will Saturday's game even reach half of that total?

"Last year, you had the first pick in the draft quarterbacking Alabama, and offensively they were a lot more open," Fisher said, "and then Hendon Hooker had as good of a year as anybody in college football a year ago, and he had a lot of experienced wideouts. I think the teams are different. They may not be throwing the ball down the field as much, but they're really good teams.

"They are shortening games more with their plays. They just had great, experienced quarterbacks in that game last year."

***

Should UTC defeat ETSU on Saturday afternoon, Rusty Wright would become the first Mocs coach to post winning Southern Conference records in each of his first five seasons.

***

LSU second-year coach Brian Kelly faced Navy every year when he was at Notre Dame, and he was asked Wednesday about the benefits in playing service academies.

"This is what collegiate athletics is truly all about in its purest form," Kelly said. "These are elite student-athletes who are going to graduate, and then their first thought is not the NFL. Their first thought is protecting our country. It just lends itself to a great perspective when we're in this age of NIL and transfer portal and playing time.

"The cadets will be at the game, and singing the alma mater with any of the service academies are memories I think our players will have for the rest of their lives."

***

After surrendering 423 yards to Florida quarterback Graham Mertz last weekend, South Carolina ranks last nationally in pass defense, allowing 321.7 aerial yards per contest.


Pasquali's Pix

Mississippi State at Arkansas: The Razorbacks are playing at home for the first time since Sept. 16, with this five-week gap marking the longest this season among FBS teams. Razorbacks 26, Bulldogs 23.

Penn State at Ohio State: The Buckeyes have won 10 of the last 11 series meetings. Buckeyes 27, Nittany Lions 20.

Boston College at Georgia Tech: So the Yellow Jackets can beat Miami on the road but can't beat Bowling Green at home? Yellow Jackets 24, Eagles 13.

ETSU at UTC: The Bucs and the Mocs play for "the most prestigious railroad tie in college sports." I demand to know what other railroad ties think about this. Mocs 31, Bucs 20.

Tennessee at Alabama: Both starting quarterbacks are seeking their first win in a rivalry game, with Tennessee's Joe Milton III having lost to Florida and with Alabama's Jalen Milroe having yet to play in one. Crimson Tide 24, Volunteers 17.

South Carolina at Missouri: That Mizzou has scored 115 points in its first three SEC games could be cause enough for Shane Beamer to kick something. Tigers 38, Gamecocks 27.

Ole Miss at Auburn: The Rebels are on the verge of topping the Tigers in consecutive meetings for the first time since the Truman presidency. Rebels 35, Tigers 26.

Army at LSU: The Tigers have the nation's leading receiver in yardage — Malik Nabers with 860 — and the nation's leading receiver in touchdowns — Brian Thomas with nine. Tigers 41, Cadets 24.

Other picks:

Oklahoma 42, UCF 19

Air Force 35, Navy 16

Memphis 29, UAB 28

Oregon 48, Washington State 21

Tulane 56, North Texas 35

Iowa 17, Minnesota 10

Wake Forest 31, Pittsburgh 24

Texas 30, Houston 17

North Carolina 34, Virginia 13

Michigan 33, Michigan State 22

Florida State 38, Duke 15

Clemson 32, Miami 27

Southern California 41, Utah 34

Washington 45, Arizona State 12

UCLA 36, Stanford 23

Wisconsin 21, Illinois 20

Nebraska 27, Northwestern 26

Last week:

Winners — 15

Second-half Buffs — 10

Pasquali is 141-34 overall (80.6%) this season.

Contact David Paschall at [email protected].

Upcoming Events