Derek Dooley reviews the UT-LSU game
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Tennessee is trying its best to treat it like just another game.
This week, that approach has seemingly hit a snag.
The Vols have attempted to make every team nameless in practices throughout the season. But when a series is easily identified by a nickname, even if Third Saturday in October is inaccurate on the calendar, it's no secret which programs are involved.
They've attempted to make every player faceless, but that's not really working either thanks to the intimate knowledge the Vols have with the other roster and the national attention it has been receiving on top of that.
Even the traditional approach of throwing out the records and rankings for a heated rivalry is difficult to always do right now considering the disparity currently between the two sides.
UT is clearly well versed in just about everything relating to No. 2 Alabama as it gears up for a crack at its longtime foe on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 7:15 p.m.). So rather than treat the Crimson Tide like everybody else, in some ways the Vols are instead focusing on both the familiarity and the traditional contempt as they gear up for a trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"(Linebackers coach Peter) Sirmon did say it again, that it's another week, a nameless, faceless opponent," senior Austin Johnson said. "But you know, when you think of Alabama, you always want to leave the University of Tennessee saying you beat them.
"It's definitely something a little bit more than that to me. I want to beat these guys, and I'm going to prepare to the best of my abilities this week to make sure that happens."
Johnson is obviously aware of the challenge if he's going to get his first
victory against the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 SEC) and end a four-game losing streak in the series for the Vols (3-3, 0-3 SEC). And he had plenty of company as a handful of his teammates met with the media on Monday before practice heats up again this morning.
Johnson offered high praise for running back Trent Richardson and called him even better than Mark Ingram, a Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick who used to share the load with the junior at Alabama.
Defensive tackle Daniel Hood called the Crimson Tide "exponentially more physical" on the offensive line than LSU, a team that piled up 237 yards rushing and seemed to physically wear down the Vols last week in a 38-7 win.
Even Vols coach Derek Dooley got in the act, labeling this Nick Saban's best Alabama team and calling the defense the most physically dominating he's "seen in the modern era of football."
But for all the respect the Vols publicly paid to their opponent, that doesn't necessarily mean they've softened their opinion of the Crimson Tide.
"I think it's a big rivalry," running back Tauren Poole said. "It's been here longer than I've been living, so it's definitely important to the state of Tennessee, state of Alabama, just to everyone.
"But we have to make it a rivalry. We can't go out there and get blown out and not make it a game. We have to go out there and continue to fight for this rivalry, for the tradition of this game and work our best to be in this game with this good football team."
Alabama might have the best one in the country, and even after just losing in lopsided fashion to the only team currently ranked above the Crimson Tide, the Vols seemed willing to put them ahead of LSU.
They'll have a much better idea of where the teams at the top stand after the weekend — but they're certainly not counting themselves out in a chance to shake it up.
"I think everybody knows who's on Alabama's team, how much talent they've got and what kind of team they are," Hood said. "Saban's brought that with him everywhere he went, and that's what makes them a good team. That's what we want to be like, but I'm focused on this year, and we can't think about previous years.
"Records don't matter, nothing matters when it comes to the Third Week of October. It's Tennessee and Alabama."
This week, the names actually matter to the Vols.