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Tennessee could run out of steam against Alabama

If Tennessee is going to compete with Alabama in the Josh Heupel era, it’s not going to be this season.

The Vols field a decent Southeastern Conference defense. But the unit lost a lot of players in the offseason, and depth is a question mark.

Worse, Mississippi made Tennessee defend 101 snaps last week. The Vols are playing for an eighth consecutive week before finally getting a bye, this time on the road after a draining, marathon loss against the Rebels.

Heupel coached the fastest offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season at Central Florida. Tennessee ranks in the top 10 in snaps per second. That tempo might start doing the team’s defense a disservice during the second half of the season.

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Hendon Hooker, running back Tiyon Evans, center Cooper Mays and offensive tackle Cade Mays are nursing injuries. Tennessee’s running backs managed just 3.9 yards per carry against an Ole Miss defense that ranks 113th in rushing EPA (Expected Points Added) per snap.

Alabama’s Will Anderson leads the country in tackles for loss.

Take Alabama -25.

Four more plays (home team in CAPS):

— TEXAS A&M -19½ over South Carolina: The Gamecocks had 29 offensive possessions against East Carolina (100th-best defense, according to SP+) and Vanderbilt (108th). South Carolina scored just 33 points on those possessions. It reached the opponent 40-yard line nine times and scored just three touchdowns. The Gamecocks are 124th in EPA per rush, 122nd in line yards, 114th in stuff rate and 113th in passing downs sack rate. Now they must face a Texas A&M defense that’s 11th in SP+. The Aggies are improving on the other side of the ball as well.

— LOUISIANA STATE-MISSISSIPPI U76½: The Rebels are off three taxing weeks: Lane Kiffin vs. Nick Saban, a wild 52-51 win against Arkansas and Lane Kiffin vs. every fan in Knoxville. Ole Miss receiver Jonathan Mingo, Braylon Sanders and Bralon Brown are dealing with injuries, as well as tight end Chase Rogers and left guard Caleb Warren. Quarterback Matt Corral, who ran 30 times against Tennessee and took five sacks, was reportedly pretty beat up early this week. LSU, which couldn’t run against air earlier this season, suddenly produced 321 rushing yards against Florida. The Ole Miss defense gives up rushing yards willingly, which will allow the clock to run.

— Cincinnati-NAVY O48½: Against Group of Five or Football Championship Subdivision opponents, the Bearcats have scored 49, 42, 52 and 56 points. With College Football Playoff aspirations and a weak schedule, Cincinnati is making it a point to run up the score as far as possible. Navy runs the option, but it has allowed 30-plus points in its last three games, which totaled 64, 55 and 52 points. The Bearcats have the defense to force some three-and-outs and prevent the Midshipmen from chewing up all the game clock.

— Colorado State -3 over UTAH STATE: These programs are going in opposite directions. Colorado State has won three of four and pushed Iowa for nearly four quarters. Utah State has lost two of three and needed a last-minute touchdown to beat winless UNLV. Colorado State’s defense ranks seventh in EPA per snap and fourth on passing plays. The Rams are 16th in sack rate, and Pro Football Focus grades them as the 10th-best pass rush. In its first three games, Utah State’s pass offense completed 62.6 percent on 8.7 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. In its last three games, those figures sunk to 54.1 percent on 7.4 yards per attempt with four touchdowns and five interceptions.

— Last week: 3-2

— Season: 20-15

Christopher Smith of AL.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow @CFBlocksmith on Twitter.

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