Top-ranked Alabama looks to post its fourth straight victory when it visits upstart Vanderbilt on Saturday in the SEC opener for both teams. The Crimson Tide are still smoothing out rough spots with this year’s group while the Commodores are surprisingly unbeaten after three games for the first time since 2011.
Alabama gave up 23 points in last Saturday’s victory over Colorado State but coach Nick Saban downplayed any concern. “Sometimes you lose sight of the fact that we are 3-0,” Saban told reporters. “We have improved in a lot of areas of our team and we’ll continue to focus on the technical aspects of what we need to do to improve in some other areas to get some mistakes and mental errors corrected.” Vanderbilt is soaring high after posting a 14-7 victory over then-No. 18 Kansas State for the school’s first victory over a ranked nonconference opponent since 1946 and now takes aim at halting a 21-game losing streak against Alabama. “I don’t think we’ve arrived at all,” Commodores junior quarterback Kyle Shurmur said at a press conference. “We’ve still got a lot of ball left, but I certainly think we’ve gotten a lot better.”
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Alabama -18.5
ABOUT ALABAMA (3-0): Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts is a more adept runner (312 yards, three touchdowns) than passer (472 yards, four scores) but he is completing 67.9 percent of his passes and hasn’t been intercepted in 53 attempts. Junior receiver Calvin Ridley (15 catches, 219 yards) is three receptions shy of former star Julio Jones (179 from 2008-10) for third place on the school’s all-time list and is tied for fourth in career touchdowns with legendary Ozzie Newsome (16 from 1974-77). Junior outside linebacker Keith Holcombe has taken advantage of playing time due to injuries at the position to rack up 16 stops over the past two games and his 17 tackles are second on the squad behind junior free safety Ronnie Harrison (18).
ABOUT VANDERBILT (3-0): Shurmur is off to a strong start by completing 71 percent of his passes for 703 yards and eight touchdowns without throwing an interception in 69 attempts. Shurmur and the offense are complemented by a strong defense that leads the nation in scoring defense (4.3) and total defense (198.3 yards per game) while featuring a standout pass rusher in junior outside linebacker Charles Wright (second in the nation with six sacks). “We want to prove to be the best defense on the field this Saturday,” said senior inside linebacker Oren Burks of a unit that has racked up 28 tackles for loss and five interceptions through three games.
1. The teams are meeting in Nashville, Tenn., for the initial time since 2007 and the first time anywhere since 2011 -- Alabama holds a 59-19-4 series lead.
2. Crimson Tide senior OLB Rashaan Evans (groin) is expected back after a two-game absence.
3. The Commodores also lead the nation in passing defense at 95.3 yards allowed per game.
PREDICTION: Alabama 23, Vanderbilt 10