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October 16, 2012TUSCALOOSA | With injuries preventing both Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson and Missouri quarterback James Franklin from facing the University of Alabama this season, the Crimson Tide defense hasn't competed against quite as much talent at the position as the schedule predicted.
This Saturday, however, its biggest test to date awaits.
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray ranks second in the Southeastern Conference in passing yards per game at 2 88, and leads the SEC in touchdown passes (16) and completions (131).
"This is actually my second time going against him. You can always watch film to see what he likes to do, get your keys, your reads," UA safety Robert Lester said. "It's always great to go against a great quarterback and great competition."
Michigan's Denard Robinson was Alabama's biggest test among dual-threat quarterbacks, a test UA passed with honors. But as a pure passer, Bray will be the best UA has seen this year.
"You know, he's a great quarterback. They've put up great numbers this whole year," UA's Vinnie Sunseri said. "They've scored a lot of points. They have great athletes. Justin Hunter, CP (Cordarrelle Patterson) is a strong wide receiver, a fast wide receiver. We're gonna have to bring our A game because they're a great offense."
With the benefit of a home crowd, Bray has two of the SEC's top receiving weapons in Hunter and Patterson.
"They've got two great receivers, who are some of the top receivers in our conference. They have a very, very good quarterback who's done a fantastic job for them this year," UA coach Nick Saban said.
Saban called the Volunteers' offensive line "by far" the best Alabama has faced all year. The Volunteers' front has allowed only three sacks all season, for just 16 yards in losses. Saban said the UT offense is more conscious of protection this season.
"I think they do a really good job in their protection schemes, make it difficult to pressure them," Saban said. "They're a little different there than they have been in the past. They're a lot more protection-conscious. That's keeping the quarterback from getting hit much, and he's pretty smart about getting rid of the ball and not getting hit."
The Vols offense might have to rely on Bray more than usual this week with its leading rusher, Rajion Neal, unlikely to play with an ankle injury. Dooley characterized Neal's status as "doubtful." Neal is on pace for an even 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, having rushed for 500 and five scores through six games.
"It's important to play with your eyes. You've got to be able to see what's going on," Lester added. "You have to be able to see your keys, your reads."
TideSports.com chat schedule this week includes Cecil Hurt on Tuesday (7pm) (Q&A transcript), Andrew Bone on Wednesday (6pm) and Chase Goodbread on Thursday (8pm).
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.