Tennessee took an expected big loss when it traveled down to Tuscaloosa to take on the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in the 100th edition of the Third Saturday in October, losing 45-7 in a game that could have scored much worse.
The Vols actually put up a good fight for a while, and even finally scored a touchdown for the first time since the first half of the UMass game on a Daniel Bituli pick-six!
However, ‘Bama was B’ama, and the Tide won a comfortable 11th straight game in the series. That streak is tied for the longest streak in the rivalry. Tennessee’s offense was stagnant again, this game sucked, this season sucks, everything sucks.
Here’s an assessment of each position group’s performance.
Jarrett Guarantano made his second career start against the nation’s No. 1 team on the road, and the resulting play was about what was expected given Tennessee’s offensive struggles and Alabama’s dynamic and punishing defense.
The redshirt freshman went 9-of-16 passing for 44 yards with an interception and a QB rating of 6.5. However, he had little help from both his pass protection and his receivers (a flea flicker with no deep routes?) throughout the day and suffered the consequences. Guarantano extended some plays with his legs and kept getting up after taking several hard hits, so his refusal to quit is commendable.
Tennessee’s offense wasn’t able to sustain drives and get much going, so John Kelly’s touches were being limited. Kelly was able to make the most of his workload, finishing with 63 yards on 12 carries, including Tennessee’s longest gain of the day with an 18-yard run. He also had two receptions for five yards.
Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan held lesser roles in the offensive production, with 18 yards on a combined seven touches.
It wasn’t a good day for Guarantano and, in turn, wasn’t a good outing for Tennessee’s receivers. Marquez Callaway was the leading receiver with three catches for 14 yards — that should tell you all you need to know. It was difficult for receivers to find space against ‘Bama’s secondary and the passing game was a struggle.
Ethan Wolf had two grabs for 11 yards and Brandon Johnson added one catch for six yards. This group has certainly seen better days.
This group was hampered by injuries and tried to substitute and mix things up during the contest, but to no avail. Guarantano was being under pressure all day and was sacked four times. Kelly had few open lanes to run through, there were untimely penalties committed and the Tide’s defense generally wreaked havoc on this group throughout the game.
The Tennessee secondary was the most solid unit on a defense that had a mostly solid day, given the circumstances. Give credit to true freshman Shawn Shamburger for coming in and playing a good game, leading the team with 12 tackles and getting a sack. Nigel Warrior also had a good outing, with seven tackles, a sack and preventing the Tide’s Calvin Ridley from catching a pass in the end zone.
And, of course, we have to give mention to Rashaan Gaulden, who is going to play himself into an NFL Draft pick if he keeps up his current level of play, flying all over the field and trying to always be in position to make plays.
It wasn’t all positive for this group, though. Bama’s passing game eventually got going, and it finished with 332 yards from both Jalen Hurts and Tagovailoa, with the most egregious play being a Henry Ruggs III 60-yard touchdown reception on a third-and-long.
]Gaulden also made himself one of the stories of the game when he gave Tide fans a double-bird salute after blocking for Bituli’s pick-six, which resulted in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Micah Abernathy was also on the wrong end of a highlight reel play, as he missed badly on an attempted tackle of Tagovailoa, which resulted in a big touchdown run.
Like the defensive line, this group ended up being punished over the course of the game by ‘Bama’s offense. There were also tackling and position issues, and this group could’ve had a better overall outing despite not looking terrible.
Quart’e Sapp continued to shine by racking up 11 tackles, and put pressure on the Tide’s the backfield. Bituli had nine tackles and Tennessee’s only real highlight of the day with a 97-yard interception return for a touchdown off of Tua Tagovailoa, ending the Vols’ nearly 13-quarter drought without a touchdown.
Overall, Tennessee’s defense wasn’t the problem on Saturday, with the unit being on the field all day due to offensive inefficiency. The defensive line did have a decent outing, getting penetration and holding its own until the group was inevitably gashed over time by the Crimson run game.
Mistakes also were devastating to this unit, with Jonathan Kongbo being flagged for hands-to-the-face penalties twice, the first negating a ‘Bama fumble through the end zone, which would’ve gave the Vols the ball on a touchback.
Look at the bright side, at least nothing went horribly wrong for this group?
D.J. Henderson forced a Xavian Marks fumble that was recovered by Tennessee. Trevor Daniel got a workout in, punting a whopping nine times for an average of 45.8 yards with a long of 60. He struggled on his first punt, which only went 32 yards, but was solid the rest of the way. The Vols’ return coverage was decent, but the unit didn’t provide much more to write home about.
OK, so Tennessee’s touchdown drought is over, but the offense still hasn’t found the end zone in 14 quarters. Yes, the Vols were facing Alabama’s defense, but there still looks to be no improvement whatsoever from a game plan standpoint.
There was an attempted flea-flicker, but Tennessee’s receivers weren’t even sent out to try to make something happen. It’s still the same, lethargic offense.
Let’s talk about actual coaching decisions. The Vols had the ball on a 4th-and-2 on Alabama’s side of the field in what is generally considered to be four-down territory. Instead of going for it in a crucial game like this, Jones elected to send Daniel out to punt.
To give credit where it is due, Bob Shoop’s defense came to play and held its own early in the game. Shoop’s squad has been playing solid football for weeks, and this was another example.