No. 1 Alabama dispatched another former Nick Saban assistant, Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, last week and the latest underling-turned-rival gets his crack when Pruitt and his Tennessee team visit Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night.
Two lengthy streaks are on the line: Former Saban assistants have come to bat against him 18 times and all have whiffed; the Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) also has won a dozen straight in this traditional interstate rivalry.
So Pruitt is representing the Vols (2-4, 1-2), but also in a way all the ex-Saban assistants turned head coaches. The Tide coach has already faced two this season in Fisher and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp and neither mustered much of a challenge.
That’s just a minor subplot in this one.
“This is the rivalry, this is the game,” said Pruitt, also a former Alabama player.
Alabama is a 34-point favorite to extend both streaks. Saban says this sort of rivalry game is part of every player’s legacy.
“I think that our players need to know that (the) first thing they’re going to get asked 20 years from now is what was your record against Tennessee?” he said. “And the next thing you’re going to get asked is what was your record against Auburn? So those games are big games to our fans.”
The Tide has its sights set on another SEC and national title shot. The Vols are “a team on the rise,” according to Saban. They’re coming off a 20-10 win over Mississippi State and aiming to turn the season around after a rough start.
Here are some other things to look for in the Tennessee-Alabama game, scheduled for 9 p.m. on ESPN:
Pruitt said earlier this week that quarterback Brian Maurer’s status could be a game-time decision. Maurer sustained a concussion late in the second quarter against Mississippi State and was replaced by former starter Jarrett Guarantano.
Guarantano passed for just 63 yards in last year’s meeting with Alabama before being replaced by Keller Chryst after taking a hit from linebacker Mack Wilson.
Both teams are expected to be without key players for the first half. Tennessee linebacker Henry To’o To’o, the team’s second- leading tackler, must sit out the first half after receiving a targeting penalty. Saban has indicated Tide wide receiver DeVonta Smith will be suspended for a half after he was penalized for throwing a punch in the Texas A&M game. Smith is averaging 106 receiving yards per game with nine touchdowns.
Pruitt joked about adopting the never-punt philosophy of Pulaski Academy in Arkansas while one of his top defenders is out. On the other side, he knows Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has no shortage of talented receivers to target.
“There would be very few NFL teams that could probably rival that part of their football team,” Tennessee’s coach said.
UPSETS DO HAPPEN
Alabama can point to South Carolina’s recent upset of then-No. 3 Georgia as cause to be wary. That game also serves as a potential confidence booster for the Vols.
“It’s just anywhere you look in college football, there’s upsets,” Tennessee receiver Jauan Jennings said. “They’re going to happen. Coaches kind of stress 60 minutes of football and whoever plays the best within that 60 minutes is going to win the game. That’s what it all comes down to.”
Pruitt was an Alabama defensive back in 1995-96 and had two stints as a Tide assistant, serving as Saban’s defensive coordinator on the second go around.
Several other UT assistants — Derrick Ansley, Chris Rumph, Chris Weinke, Kevin Sherrer and Brian Niedermeyer — also have also worked at Bama, and offensive line coach Will Friend is a former player for the Tide.
UNDER THE LIGHTS
Alabama finally gets to play a game under the stadium’s new lighting system after three late morning or afternoon starts at home.
“I haven’t really seen them,” Tide linebacker Terrell Lewis said. “I didn’t really hear about them. I heard they were LED lights, though. I’m anxious to see how they look, but I’m just happy that we get to play a night game.”