Players, coaches understand importance of rivalry



The gap between Alabama and Tennessee seems to grow wider every year.

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley is in his third year at the helm of the Volunteers and has collected a 14-17 record so far, including just 4-15 in SEC play. The Vols have lost all three of their conference games this season and prognosticators are already debating Dooley’s job security.

Meanwhile, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has his team on a collision course for a thrid national championship in four years. The Crimson Tide has blown through the first six games of its schedule and doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.

But Saban says none of that matters this week, when Alabama and Tennessee will take part in the 95th edition of their historic rivalry.

“This game is more about the rivalry and less about people’s record,” Saban said. “Tennessee has a really, really good offensive team. It’s always a challenge to play on the road, and this is certainly a challenging place to play.”

Alabama has won five games in a row in the series. Every game has been won by at least 20 points, except for 2009, when Terrence Cody blocked what would have been a game-winning field goal in Tuscaloosa.

“Being a second-year player, it’s kind of grown on me now,” linebacker Trey DePriest said about the rivalry. “Last year, I didn’t know. I thought it was always Alabama-Auburn. I didn’t really know about the Tennessee game. But a lot of the older fans take this game real seriously. It’s bigger than Alabama-Auburn to them. I try to please the fans as much as possible, so it definitely means a lot.”

Out-of-state players like DePriest and defensive lineman Damion Square don’t hear about Tennessee-Alabama as much as some of Alabama’s other rivals like Auburn and LSU. Square, though, sees passion in Alabama’s rivalries unlike any he ever saw in his home state of Texas.

“What football means to the state of Alabama and what it means there is a little bit different,” Square said. “They have their pride about [Texas] and it’s a state full of Texas exes; but here at Alabama, there’s a different atmosphere with Alabama-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee and things like that.

“It’s a little bit more state-wide. You have your sections in Texas that’s serious about it and some that’s not quite so serious about it. Here, it’s the entire state of Alabama.”

McCarron, other injured players all OK

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Quarterback AJ McCarron, who sustained a bruised knee in Alabama’s 42-10 win over Missouri, will practice this week, Saban said. McCarron sustained the injury in the third quarter, but returned for the next series and finished the game.

“He’ll be fine in a day or two,” Saban said on ESPN’s BCS Countdown Show Sunday.

Saban added that wide receiver Christion Jones (ankle sprain) will be day-to-day and running back Eddie Lacy (bruised hand) is OK as well.

“We have our nicks and bruises like everybody does this time of the year,” Saban said. “We just need to manage through that and do the best we can to prepare for this game.”

 

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