Vols get ready for tilt at Alabama

Published 12:12 pm Thursday, October 19, 2023

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Riding a three-game win streak and gearing up for the first of back-to-back SEC road tilts, the No. 17 Tennessee football team took Haslam Field Tuesday morning to continue preparations for Saturday’s trip to No. 11 Alabama. This year’s edition of “The Third Saturday in October” will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on CBS.

After a strong defensive showing against Texas A&M that featured 11 quarterback hurries and a pair of picks late in the contest, the Vols will face another challenge head-on this weekend against the Crimson Tide and redshirt sophomore signal caller Jalen Milroe. Speaking to media on Tuesday, Tennessee secondary coach Willie Martinez discussed several keys that the defensive backs will be focused on against the dynamic Alabama quarterback, who ranks second in the SEC in passing efficiency (174.7).

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“For the back end, whenever you are playing coverage, you put your eyes where they belong and stay in coverage,” Martinez said. “That’s the most important thing we can do with a guy like Milroe because he will make you pay. He’s gone a lot of the time, but other times too, he’ll throw the ball down the field. He’s been very successful at doing that when guys are leaving their man or getting out of coverage. That’s where he’s done a lot of damage.

“We’re going to have to be really good around the entire defense. If the pocket collapses, we have to do a good job of being disciplined and staying in our rushing lanes and being in the position to flush him east and west as opposed to him getting out north and south. We also have to stay in coverage as well.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Vols have been consistent in the run game and boast the league’s top rushing attack. Leading the charge is junior running back Jaylen Wright, who finished Saturday’s contest against the Aggies with a season-high 136 yards on 19 carries.

According to Pro Football Focus, Wright’s eight carries of 10-plus yards were the most by any FBS running back during Week 7. Talking to media Tuesday after practice, UT running backs coach Jerry Mack spoke on how those tough runs elevate the confidence and energy on the sideline throughout an SEC caliber contest.

“It builds a lot of confidence in the entire room and the entire team,” Mack said. “There was one specific situation last game where (Jaylen) tried to hurdle a guy. You can see that energy that he brought to the table, it ignited the entire offense.

“For the most part, it was a situation where that right there, you could see our entire intensity, the way we play, the manner in which we play when we touch the ball all of a sudden changed. It’s those kinds of plays. It doesn’t mean it has to always be a 50-yard touchdown, it could just be a guy going pad plus two, it could be a guy pushing the pile like you see sometimes. That creates an energy amongst the team and the fanbase a lot of times when you see those types of plays.”

As the Vols head to Tuscaloosa for the second true road game of the season, communication will be paramount in the hostile environment of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Senior running back Jabari Small, one of the most veteran players for the Vols’ offensively, emphasized the fine details ahead of Saturday’s rivalry matchup.

“Really just the communication part, attention to detail, doing the simple things at a very high level,” Small said on Tuesyda. “Things we do each and every day, making sure the basic fundamental things, we take those very seriously throughout the week. It starts tomorrow, it started today, but we finish it tomorrow with the second day of full go type of practice. Attention to detail really.”