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Top-ranked Alabama hosts Tennessee in SEC showdown

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Updated: 10/23/2013 11:15 am

Tuscaloosa, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide continue their chase of a third straight national championship, when they close out the month of October with a showdown with the upset-minded Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The two-time defending champs posted yet another lopsided win this past weekend, shutting out Arkansas, 52-0. With the victory, Nick Saban's squad moved to 7-0 on the year, including a 4-0 mark in the SEC. The victory was also Alabama's 11th straight victory, the second-longest active win streak in the nation behind Ohio State (19).

Saban still doesn't believe his team has hit its peak yet.

"I think it's important that our team continue to focus on improving. I still don't think we played our best game. I think we have to continue to improve."

The Volunteers are playing their third straight ranked opponent and fifth in the last six games. The team is coming off its most impressive victory of the Butch Jones' era, outlasting then No. 11 South Carolina last weekend in Knoxville with a 19-yard field goal by Michael Palardy as time expired (23-21) to end a 19-game losing streak to ranked opponents. The victory improved UT to 4-3 in Jones' first season at the helm and is his first win in-conference (1-2).

Jones knows that last week's win was huge but is a thing of the past.

"Each week is a new season in and of itself," Jones said. "Each week takes on a life of itself and that's where we've tried to educate our younger players. The game planning changes. It's that mental effort, that mental intensity, that high level of preparation that goes into it so we really, really have stressed that. Up to this point in time our players have done a good job with that."

Alabama holds a 49-38-7 series advantage against Tennessee thanks to wins in each of the last six meetings. The Crimson Tide posted a 44-13 rout of the Volunteers in Knoxville a year ago.

Tennessee relies heavily on its ground game in 2013, with the Volunteers ranking 37th nationally at 201.7 ypg. The passing has been plagued with inconsistency this season, with the team averaging a modest 166.3 yards passing per game.

A lot of that has to do with junior Justin Worley's struggles. The Tennessee quarterback has completed just 55.8 percent of his passes this season, for 1,119 yards, with just 10 touchdowns against six interceptions.

The team's preferred mode of travel is hading off the ball to senior tailback Rajion Neal, who is averaging a solid 99.0 yards per game, amassing 693 yards (5.2 ypc). Neal is also responsible for eight of the team's 13 rushing scores on the year.

Tennessee has struggled with consistency on the defensive side of the ball this year, allowing 411.9 yards per game, including a generous 181.7 yards rushing on 4.8 yards per carry.

Junior linebacker A.J. Johnson is the heart-and-soul of the UT defense, leading the team in tackles with 55. Sophomore DB Brian Randolph has played well in the secondary, ranking second with 46 stops, while leading the team with three interceptions. Senior Marlon Walls (17 tackles) is the playmaker up front and leads the Vols in both TFL (6.5) and sacks (4.5).

The Crimson Tide continued to roll on both sides of the football against Arkansas, and have shown no signs of slowing up. Offensively, the team is able to move the chains both on the ground (211.7 ypg) and through the air (248.7 ypg), leading to 40.7 ppg.

It definitely helps to have one of the nation's top veteran signal callers in AJ McCarron running the show. The senior Heisman candidate has completed 69.2 percent of his passes this season, for 1,587 yards, with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. McCarron has a deep receiving corps to work with, led by Christion Jones (26 catches, 275 yards, two TDs).

While the passing game keeps foes honest, Alabama has long been a running team. The 2013 squad is no different, as tailbacks T.J. Yeldon (657 yards, 6.6 ypc, seven TDs) and Kenyan Drake (402 yards, 8.2 ypc, seven TDs) are a potent one-two punch.

The Alabama defense has been a staple as well under Saban and once again is one of the nation's premier units. The Crimson Tide lead the nation in scoring defense (9.7 ppg), ranking eighth in rush defense (98.3 ypg), ninth in pass defense (176.7 ypg) and fifth in total defense (275.0 ypg).

However, the squad has had to deal with some adversity this year. First, All- American candidate HaHa Clinton-Dix was suspended for a couple of games. The talented safety returned to the lineup against Arkansas, but fellow safety Vinnie Sunseri went down against the Razorbacks (knee) and is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

There is plenty of talent remaining in Tuscaloosa on defense, but Sunseri was a leader in the secondary and won't be easily replaced. The Tide will still rely on All-American linebacker C.J. Mosley to lead the way. Mosley leads the team with 58 total tackles. Both freshman A'Shawn Robinson (17 tackles, 5.0 sacks) and sophomore Denzel Devall (15 tackles, 4.5 sacks) have shown flashes of strong play in the pass rush, despite a combined three starts.

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