A few competing narratives will meet Saturday afternoon in Knoxville.
The first is obvious: This is the most anticipated home game for sleeping giant Tennessee in decades. Ticket prices took a rocket ship right past affordability for most when the Vols stomped No. 25 LSU last week to ensure an undefeated record and top-10 ranking for the 2:30 pm CT visit from No. 3 Alabama.
At the same time, the Crimson Tide have struggled at times in all but one true road game the past two seasons. And coming off a sloppy offensive performance in a 24-20 home win over Texas A&M, the 15 years of Tennessee’s frustration in the Alabama rivalry is bubbling over.
By Monday morning, the official Vol football Twitter account declared Saturday an “Orange Out” of Neyland Stadium. Two weeks ago, Arkansas went for the all-red look in Razorback Stadium in what ended with a 49-26 road win for the Crimson Tide.
It’s been four years since Alabama played in a capacity Neyland Stadium since the 2020 game occurred under COVID-19-mandated reduced seating.
“Oh yeah, we know it’s going to be loud. We’re probably going to see that orange-white section, orange-white section,” Alabama safety Jordan Battle said Tuesday, referencing the checker-board look Neyland’s seating bowl replicated for last month’s win over Florida. “We know it’s going to be loud. I know we probably haven’t played the best on the road this year so this week will be a big emphasis of trying to play better on the road.”
With Tennessee easily carrying more momentum than any of the 15 previous losses to Alabama, the demand for tickets in Knoxville is far outpacing the 101,915-seat capacity of Neyland Stadium. The cheapest tickets on StubHub are just under $500 with fees with 50-yard line seats going well into four figures.
That will make communication a chore for an Alabama offense that had issues with just that in a Week 2 road trip to Texas. It was flagged for three false start flags on a 15-penalty day the Crimson Tide barely survived, 20-19.
“Going into that environment on Saturday is obviously pretty tough,” said left tackle Tyler Steen. “We gotta make sure that we communicate and stay focused throughout the game — make sure we maintain our intensity throughout the game — stuff like that. I don’t think you can really practice it just because it’s hard to, like, replicate that situation.”
Experience helps with that dynamic, Steen explained, and the fact Alabama was hit with just one false start in the hornets’ nest of Razorback Stadium is evidence. A year ago, the Tide was flagged six times for false starts in the first two road games at Florida and Texas A&M. Then in the final two road games at Mississippi State and Auburn, it had none.
“We have a lot of guys on the team that’s played a lot of football and have been put in those situations before,” Steen said, “so just making sure that we stay focused each and every play, I think that’s going to go a long way in helping us do that.”
“Just practicing throughout the week and just understanding the calls and adjustments that we have to do throughout the plays that we run. I feel like that’s something that we’ve improved throughout the week.”
Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.