Is Alabama about to hammer the final nail into Butch Jones’ coffin at Tennessee? The Vols are reeling and a big defeat here could be the end of their head coach’s time in Knoxville. Pretty sure Nick Saban isn’t thinking about that though as he continues to prepare the Crimson Tide for the College Football Playoff.

Here are the three keys to this one:

Get the backups some work

Alabama is a five-touchdown favorite over Tennessee in the annual “Third Saturday in October” matchup. That a team can be that heavily favored in a rivalry game – albeit a rivalry game that Alabama has owned for a decade – says plenty about both sides. Tennessee just hasn’t picked up after losing Joshua Dobbs to the NFL last year and they are kind of in a full rebuild mode.

Alabama needs to put this one to bed early and get the starters out of the game. This serves the dual purpose of getting the backups some work, while also making sure no one important to the Crimson Tide’s potential December run gets hurt. Alabama is very good and the two-deep this year is as strong as it has been in a generation, but any team is still just one or two injuries away from a decline in performance.

Pressure Jarrett Guaratano

Bryant-Denny Stadium is probably not the venue a young quarterback would choose to make his first road start in a college football game. This is especially true in the current era, where a combination of the crazy crowd and Saban’s NFL level defense causes havoc for even the elite passers in the college game.

That is what faces Tennessee redshirt freshman Jarrett Guaratano on Saturday.

Guaratano replaced Quinten Dormady for his first start last Saturday in a 15-9 loss to South Carolina. Guaratano went 11-of-18 for 133 yards in the loss, exhibiting all the nerves and decision making issues that you would expect from a young quarterback thrown into that situation. Saban is no mug. He will have his defense primed to get after the freshman quarterback on Saturday, so expect the ‘Bama front seven to come out hot and to try to put this away quickly.

Be ready for a desperate opponent

There is sometimes something to be said for being backed into a corner. At that point, all you can do is come out swinging and hope for the best. That is pretty much where Tennessee finds itself halfway through the SEC season. No one expected this year to be easy, but Jones will have expected his team to give him more.

The loss to Florida was unlucky, but the Georgia beat down (41-0) was followed by an inept showing against the Gamecocks. Now they travel to Alabama with little to do other than punch and hope for the best. If Alabama can grasp control of this early with the running game then it will be done by halftime. If, however, Tennessee can get a lucky turnover or two, then a desperate opponent could be exactly what Alabama doesn’t need this weekend.

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