(The Tennessee Volunteers host No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday at 7 ET on ESPN.)
The Alabama Crimson Tide are 43-0 since the start of the 2008 season when they run for at least 150 yards in a game. On Saturday, the Crimson Tide will play the Tennessee Volunteers, who rank last in the SEC in rushing.
This season, Alabama is averaging 6.2 yards per carry on designed run plays. That happens to be the same amount the Tennessee Volunteers allow per carry, which ranks last in the SEC.
Why is Alabama averaging so many yards per carry? On those designed run plays the Tide average 4.6 yards before contact with a defender. They have made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage without being touched on 38.8 percent of their designed runs, including on 20-of-42 runs last week against Missouri.
When head coach Nick Saban’s team isn’t gaining yards by the bunches on the ground, quarterback A.J. McCarron is more than holding his own under center.
McCarron ranks fourth in FBS in third-down passing efficiency this season (minimum 20 attempts). One reason for McCarron’s success is his improvement when opponents send five or more pass-rushers. He’s completing 70.6 percent of his passes against the blitz on third down this season, up from 46.7 in 2011.
When Alabama sends five or more pass-rushers, opponents are completing 42.9 percent of their passes with more combined sacks and interceptions (13) than first downs (12). On Saturday, Missouri completed 1-of-9 passes and was sacked twice when Alabama blitzed, the third time in the past four games that Alabama had more sacks than its opponent had completions.
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray this season has completed a similar number of attempts when being blitzed by SEC opponents (43.3 percent). While Bray put up good numbers in non-conference play, he’s been average at best in Tennessee’s three SEC games, all losses. He’s completed just over 52.2 percent of his passes and has thrown just as many touchdowns as interceptions (6) in losses to Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State.