Game preview: Alabama at Tennessee

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's something about the Third Saturday in October, Alabama versus Tennessee, crimson and orange on a fall night.

It's not a rivalry by geography, nor is it one that dates back to the school's inception. But the rivalry between Alabama and Tennessee is no less intense. In fact, to UA linebacker Trey DePriest, it might be the most intense game the Tide play all season.

"Being a second-year player, it's kind of grown on me now," he said. "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."

To Cyrus Kouandjio, the game represents something different. The sophomore left tackle will come full circle Saturday, marking a year since he tore his ACL at home against Tennessee. The road back wasn't as easy as he thought it would be.

"When I got hurt was almost exactly a year ago; it was tough," Kouandjio said. "To rehab every day -- I didn't know it was going to be as hard, actually. When you get hurt, it's not a joke, because it's tough to get back. I'm still kind of hurting a little bit. But I'm just ready to go out there and play, you know? I'm actually pretty excited. It's been a year, and this is the same team that I tore my ACL against.

"I'm ready to go out there and have fun."

With a trip to Neyland Stadium to look forward to all week, Kouandjio said he has noticed a change not just in himself, but the team as a whole.

"I noticed a change in tempo and a change in everybody's mindset," he said. "Everybody's more into it, you know? Everybody's more focused. This is a big game, especially Coach [Nick] Saban. He feels this is a huge game because we have a rivalry against Tennessee, and it's an important game to do our best and execute."

Three storylines

1. Getting to Bray: No team so far has had luck getting to Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray. The strong-armed junior has been sacked only three times this season, thanks to an offensive line Saban called the best Alabama has seen thus far. Like any good passing team, the best way to slow them down is to get in the face of the quarterback and pressure the pocket, because if Bray is given time to read the defense, the secondary could be in for a long night.

2. Keeping up on offense: Much will be made -- and has been made -- of Tennessee's high-powered offense, and rightfully so. The Vols are nothing if not prolific, but the other side of that coin reveals a defense incapable of stopping the big play. Bray and the Vols' offense might grab the headlines before kickoff, but it could be Alabama's show to steal when the Tide offense hits the field.

3. Consistency: It's been easy, almost too easy, for the Crimson Tide to turn on auto-pilot after halftime. Alabama is averaging a 24.5 point lead heading into intermission through six games. But two quarters of play isn't enough for Saban, who is seeking a full four-quarter effort from his players as Alabama moves into the meat of its SEC schedule.

Alabama players to watch

1. S Vinnie Sunseri: It won't be easy for Vinnie to keep his emotions in check as he goes up against his father. Can he overcome the distractions of an already rowdy Neyland Stadium, block out the awkwardness of facing Sal and still defend the best passing attack he's seen all year?

2. QB AJ McCarron: All eyes will be on McCarron's right knee. Torn meniscus or not -- and according to Saban, it's not -- keeping McCarron upright is more important than ever.

3. LB Adrian Hubbard: The lanky sophomore has come on in recent games, getting to the quarterback more effectively and disrupting the passing game. All 3.5 of his sacks have come in the last three games. Was his sack and forced fumble against Missouri the turning point in his young career?

Tennessee players to watch

1. QB Tyler Bray: Bray has a big arm and bigger numbers. The junior is averaging 288.3 passing yards per game and has thrown 16 touchdowns to seven interceptions.

2. TE Mychal Rivera: If there's one area of the defense that's been less than spectacular, it's defending the intermediate pass. Tight ends have had luck against the Tide and Rivera is capable of exploiting that weakness. The 6-foot-3 senior has 15 catches and two touchdowns this season.

3. NG Daniel McCullers: Not since Terrence Cody has Barrett Jones had to block a nose guard as big and physically imposing as McCullers. "You see him on film and he looks enormous," Jones said.

Key matchup

Bama secondary vs. Tennessee receivers: Alabama hasn't faced a combination of quarterback, receivers and offensive line like Tennessee's. Not only will the secondary have to defend the likes of Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Rivera, it will likely have to do it for longer than it's used to.

By the numbers

5: When's the last time the Vols beat Alabama? Six years ago, in 2006.

27: Tennessee hasn't beaten the No. 1 team in the country since upsetting Bo Jackson and the Auburn Tigers in 1985 at Neyland Stadium.

83-0: Alabama has taken the wind out of opponents' sails right away this season, outscoring teams 83-0 in the first quarter.