Planning for success: Alabama

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
8:00
AM ET
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Ready for a good old-fashioned rivalry? We've got one when the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) hosts the Tennessee Volunteers (4-3, 1-2) on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

Can lightning strike twice for Tennessee? Riding an upset victory over South Carolina this past weekend, the hope for Butch Jones' squad is that the answer is yes.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Saban is building respect for this week's opponent.
And, as always, Nick Saban is guarding against that possibility.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for Tennessee and the job that they've done this year," he said. "They've really played well the last two weeks. I think it's really going to be important for us to focus on the things we need to improve on.

"Certainly a big game for us."

So who are some players to watch and some stats to chew on? We've got that for you right here:

Tennessee players to watch

RB Rajion Neal: The 5-foot-11 senior has quietly been one of the best running backs in the SEC this season. He's currently tied for fourth on in the league in rushing with 693 yards and eight touchdowns.

OT Antonio Richardson: Really, it's not just Richardson. As Saban pointed out Wednesday, "They've got two really good tackles, probably both NFL type guys who will be high draft picks." If you're looking for the key to Tennessee's success this season just look up front. Richardson leads what's arguably the best offensive line in the SEC.

DL Daniel McCullers: It may not be the best defensive line in the country, but Tennessee's got some heft on that side of the ball, too. McCullers is the Vols’ version of Terrence Cody, a mammoth run stuffer at 6-foot-8 and 351 pounds. Alabama's interior offensive linemen will be tested by his size and strength Saturday.

Alabama players to watch

C Ryan Kelly: Will he play or won't he? Kelly has missed the last three games recovering from an injury, but was "full go this week," according to Saban. Odds are Chad Linsday will continue to start, but look for Kelly to work his way back into the mix.

WR Amari Cooper: After starting the season slowly, Cooper has shown signs of resurgence in recent games. With some nagging injuries behind him, he's playing faster and producing more with six receptions in his last two games. Cooper's coming-out party last season was against Tennessee. Maybe familiarity will be the jump-start he needs.

RB Derrick Henry: He flew down the sideline like a blur. Henry, Alabama's larger than life tailback, sprinted past Arkansas' defense for an 80-yard touchdown run last Saturday, the first score of his career. Saban said Wednesday that there's no question he has the ability. How he picks up the little things like blocking -- things he wasn't asked to do in high school -- will determine how much he contributes down the stretch as a freshman.

Key stats

15: Alabama's pass protection has been stout of late, failing to give up a sack since the third quarter against Ole Miss. The Tide ranks 15th nationally and third in the SEC with 1.00 sacks allowed per game.

16: Alabama's defense is on a historic run of late, surrendering just 16 points in its last five games.

17: Just how explosive is Alabama sophomore running back Kenyan Drake? He and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota are the only two players in the country with 17 rushes of 10-plus yards in fewer than 70 carries.

Alex Scarborough | email

Alabama/SEC reporter

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