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October 17, 2011

Notebook: Tide readies for rivalry

TUSCALOOSA | The Tennessee Volunteers may be 3-3 and four-touchdown underdogs entering the 2011 renewal of a storied rivalry with the University of Alabama. And the Vols are without starting quarterback Tyler Bray due to a thumb injury, as well.

But don't tell the Crimson Tide that their orange-clad neighbors to the northeast aren't capable of an upset. Especially not the ones whose fingers were crossed two years ago when the Volunteers were a last-second field goal away from a stunning upset in Tuscaloosa.

Nico Johnson was not only on the team, he was on the field when Terrence Cody blocked a field goal try to salvage an unbeaten season for one of the iconic moments of a national championship season.

"The last thing I remember about that game was being in my stance and thinking we could lose this game," said Johnson. "That's the last thing I remember. I don't remember anything before that. That's pretty much about it. We blocked the field goal and we were fortunate to keep our season going undefeated."

As an Alabama native, Johnson is attuned to the full meaning of the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry, particularly to its fans. Like Johnson, nose guard Josh Chapman and Dont'a Hightower grew up around the rivalry as well, with Chapman from Hoover and Hightower from the other side of the border in Marshall County, Tenn.

"Tennessee's a great rival. It means more to not just us, (but also) to people in the state and people who played here at the university," Chapman said. "I mean, it's a great rivalry. I love playing in this game."

But while UA players who grew up in Alabama may have a greater sense of the rivalry's meaning, Chapman said it doesn't take long for Alabama's out-of-state signees to gather their own understanding.

"The out-of-state guys kind of sense the rivalry, also," Chapman said.

Guard Chance Warmack, of Atlanta, didn't need much of an introduction.

"You come in as a freshman and they're already telling you about the rivalry. So you pretty much already know what you have to do to get ready for Tennessee as a team," Warmack said. "It's been like this for a long time. You just get used to it."

Alabama leads the all-time series 48-37-8, and has won the last four in a row.

Kicker Cade Foster (concussion) and right guard Anthony Steen (concussion) both participated in practice Monday, although with the team working out in shorts, their status for contact wasn't clear. Saban said he didn't expect anyone to be unable to practice later this week.

"Those things we test and when he (Steen) gets back to normal that's when we'll kind of let him go," Saban said. "We don't think it's that bad, but you never know how guys respond to those things."

Foster was replaced by Jeremy Shelley for the latter part of the Ole Miss game, while Steen was replaced by Alfred McCullough.

"They kind of had us on that play and he made a great individual effort to make people miss. That's what great players do, they kind of make plays above and beyond, and he certainly did that on that occasion." - Nick Saban on Trent Richardson's 76-yard touchdown run Saturday.

Did you know?
Of the six SEC teams that Alabama faces every season, Tennessee is one of three that have not beaten Alabama in the Nick Saban era. The others are Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Running back Trent Richardson was named the SEC's Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against Ole Miss. Richardson posted career highs of 183 yards and four touchdowns, tying the school record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games at six (Shaun Alexander, 1999). ... Richardson was among seven players chosen for weekly honors by the UA coaching staff, along with lineman Chance Warmack, quarterback AJ McCarron, safety Mark Barron, linebacker Nico Johnson, and special teams performers Vinnie Sunseri and Dre Kirkpatrick.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase.goodbread@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0196.

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