Previewing three matchups for the Alabama offense in the top-ranked Crimson Tide's SEC matchup with Tennessee (4-3, 1-2 in SEC).
Drake has rushed for 210 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games.
Alabama running backs 4 TJ Yeldon (6'2, 216, So.) and 17 Kenyan Drake (6'1, 201, So.) vs. Tennessee middle linebacker 45 A.J. Johnson (6'2, 243, Jr.) and weakside linebacker 41 Dontavius Sapp (6'2, 227, Sr.).
From the UA perspective: For some teams, 1,050 rushing yards is a half season. For Alabama, it represents the rushing total over the last 14 quarters of play. Even with my public school background, a calculator tells me that averages out to 75 yards per quarter or 300 yards per game since the second half of Ole Miss.
In a 52-0 win over Arkansas last week, the series split between Yeldon and Drake was nearly even, as the Crimson Tide's latest dynamic duo combined for 192 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
What I liked most, though, was Yeldon's involvement in the passing game. After a quiet first half of the season from a receiving standpoint, the sophomore caught four passes for 45 yards against the Hogs. He's capable of producing those kind of numbers on weekly basis.
Both Yeldon and Drake saw action in Alabama's 44-13 win over the Vols a season ago. Yeldon rushed for 129 yards and two scores on just 15 carries, while Drake carried four times for 22 yards in a mop-up role in the blowout.
From a pass protection standpoint, blitz pickups for Yeldon and Drake this week will involve nickel back JaRon Toney in addition to Johnson and Sapp.
From the Tennessee perspective: Johnson's specialty is between the tackles. He's coming off back-to-back games against Georgia and South Carolina that saw him record 20 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. In two career starts against Alabama, Johnson has racked up 27 stops, including 1.5 for loss. As the Vols' short yardage specialist a season ago, he scored UT's lone touchdown in last year's meeting, diving into the end zone from two yards out.
A career special teamer prior to the 2013 season, Sapp ranks third on the team in tackles with 36 stops. The former defensive back has appeared in three games against Alabama as a reserve, with a tackle and fumble recovery in last season's loss to UA serving as his career stat line in the series.
Who gets the nod?: Johnson is a tackling machine, as evidenced by his 15 career double-digit tackle performances. The key is to get him outside of his comfort zone, which is the inside running game. Make him work the perimeter, against both the run and pass, and he's not as effective. Yeldon and Drake are capable of doing just that. Edge to UA.
Alabama center 78 Chad Lindsay (6'2, 302, Jr.) and offensive guards 77 Arie Kouandjio (6'5, 315, Jr.) and 61 Anthony Steen (6'3, 309, Sr.) vs. Tennessee defensive tackles 98 Daniel McCullers (6'8, 351, Sr.) and 97 Daniel Hood (6'4, 277, Sr.).
From the UA perspective: Following last week's 52-0 win over Arkansas, Alabama's rushing yardage total for the 14 full quarters (second half of Ole Miss, first half of Georgia State and first three quarters at Kentucky) with Lindsay as the starting center moved to 774 yards on 97 carries (8 yards per carry).
With Steen leading the way, the right side of the line has been especially dominant the past two weeks, as both Steen and tackle Austin Shepherd have been tabbed as offensive players of the week by the UA coaching staff.
From the Tennessee perspective: Prior to the last two games, McCullers' intrigue as a prospect was based solely on his size. Against Georgia and South Carolina, though, he showed signs of becoming a playmaker as the big man racked up 4.5 tackles for loss in those games. The senior posted three tackles in a start against UA last season.
The end of the one-year experiment of the 3-4 under former defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri was a good thing for the undersized Hood. While he's still asked to hold the point on occasion, he doesn't bear the weight of the entire front seven, which was the case when he spelled McCullers at nose tackle in the Vols three-man front from a season ago.
In passing situations, look for Corey Miller and Marlon Walls to work inside in a four-defensive end look the Vols like to use. Walls leads UT in sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (6.5).
Who gets the nod?: Like the rest of Tennessee team, the interior of the Vols' defense looks to be rounding into form. Specifically, McCullers' production appears to be on the verge of meeting up with the potential we've heard about for three years now. Still, there's a reason why SEC opponents Florida, Georgia and South Carolina combined to average 224 rushing yards in meetings with Tennessee. Edge to UA.
Alabama offensive tackles 71 Cyrus Kouandjio (6'6, 311, Jr.) and 79 Austin Shepherd (6'5, 315, Jr.) vs. Tennessee defensive ends 55 Jacques Smith (6'2, 243, Sr.); 80 Corey Miller (6'3, 265, Sr.) and 58 Marlon Walls (6'2, 272, Sr.).
From the UA perspective: In addition to its success on the ground over the last 14 quarters, Alabama hasn't given up a sack during the span. In working against one of league's top end tandems a week ago, Kouandjio and Shepherd performed well, keeping Chris Smith and Trey Flowers at bay for most of the two and half quarters that quarterback AJ McCarron was in the game.
From the Tennessee perspective: Smith, who missed the first two games of the season with a broken thumb, is in search of his first sack. Meanwhile, Miller's two sacks rank second on the team to Walls' 4.5.
Corey Vereen (6'2, 248) is a true freshman the Vols are very high on and you'll see him in passing situations Saturday. At this point in his development, he's exclusively an edge rusher who looks to use his speed to get to the quarterback. He's got a dip move that helps him get underneath tackles on the way to his intended target.
Who gets the nod?: In performing at a high level in last week's win over Arkansas, Shepherd took a large step toward ending the platoon situation with Grant Hill. In addition to being solid in pass protection, he's been very effective drive blocking on the backside of cutback runs by Yeldon and Drake, something you'll see more of this week.
If anything, Walls and Miller will be more of an issue for the interior of the UA line when the duo lines up inside on passing downs. The matchup to watch on the outside in those situations will be Vereen on Kouandjio. Edge to UA.