It was a game full of certainty, for the most part.
Most of the 101,821 fans in attendance for the Third Saturday in October rivalry game knew the forgone conclusion that was an Alabama victory. The way that the result was achieved, a 45-7 Tide victory), was one of pure dominance on both sides of the football for the Tide.
The Alabama offensive attack was potent, outgaining the Volunteers 604-108 while maintaining a level of balance that can hardly be rivaled. That balance translated to a 3-to-2 run to pass call ratio, which is what the Tide is aiming for on a game-to-game basis. The spread of the touches in both passing and rushing, with both units having 8 different players rushing and receiving, is also very consistent with Tide offenses from years’ past. Being able to spread the ball around to different players on a consistent basis makes the offense even more dangerous than they already are.
Even with how impressive the offense was in their balance, the defense still was the more impressive unit, which seems to be a common theme for Alabama. Only allowing 104 yards and 0 points on defense (the one Tennessee touchdown came on an interception returned for a touchdown) is impressive in its own right, but for the Alabama defense to only allow 10 plays to be run on their end of the field (5 if you don’t count the short field the Vols received after a Xavian Marks punt return fumble) is quite remarkable, even considering the relative ineptitude of Tennessee’s offense. The Volunteer offense looked lost out on the field, continuously running the same plays for the same players and expecting different results (insanity anyone?). However, the Tide did well to stop those repetitive plays with a level of relative consistency. That consistency will lead them onward throughout the rest of their SEC slate, as well as their potential playoff bracket.
The first half of the game went very quickly, with long, drawn-out drives slowing down the pace of play. The Tide were paced by two 1-yard touchdown runs by Bo Scarborough out of Alabama’s jumbo set, which includes defensive linemen Da’Ron Payne and Quinnen Williams, as well as backup offensive lineman Jedrick Wills. Tack on an 11-yard touchdown run from Damien Harris near the end of the half, and the Tide were feeling pretty good about their prospects at this point, leading 21-0 after 30 minutes. The efficiency continued, with Hurts throwing a touchdown pass to Irv Smith Jr. to open up the first drive of the second half. This 28-0 lead prompted the entrance of Tua Tagovailoa, the back-up quarterback, for some mop-up duty. This change would lead to, whether indirectly or directly, led to the Vols scoring their only touchdown of the game, a 97-yard interception return by Daniel Bitulli. Saban stuck with his backup, however, who went straight back down the field, but stalled out in the red zone, forcing Andy Pappanastos into action, converting a 25-yard FG to make it 31-7.
One of the glaring weaknesses that has manifested itself over the previous few weeks is the lack of a reliable punt returner. Xavian Marks, who fielded all punts today, had trouble with 2 punts, one of which he lost, which led to the goal line stand that the Bama defense executed nearly flawlessly. One of the problems that needs to be addressed from the past few weeks for the bye week is the punt returner, but Saban has plenty of time to figure that sort of things before the next game against LSU.
Following the Bama goal line stand, Tagovailoa threw a strike to Henry Ruggs III, who ran 60 yards to paydirt. Ruggs has one of the more unique statlines, considering that every one of his catches this season have been touchdowns. That skill set will be very useful to his development down the line as a true slot receiver, as well as an eventual punt returner.
Overall, the Tide were very sharp in this contest, and it showed on the field. The Tide were able to outclass the Vols in every fashion of the game, which doesn’t bode well for Tennessee Head Coach Butch Jones’ job as the Tennessee coach. The Tide will need that same intensity in two weeks, when the LSU Tigers make the trip to Tuscaloosa for a tilt that has been an instant classic for the last 10 years. LSU, coming off of a big win over Ole Miss, in which Darius Guice ran for 276 yards, is playing with a lot more confidence after their 30-point humbling at the hands of Mississippi State. The Tide are clearly the better team, but LSU will put on a show for the Crimson Tide faithful simply because of the rivalry, which will complicate the situation for Nick Saban and his staff, but they’re still the best team in the country for a reason. Nevertheless, it will be an incredible game that fits into the history of the rivalry.
Tennessee will travel next week to a Kentucky team that was humbled in a similar fashion to Alabama, except at the hands of Mississippi State. That game is important for the future of Butch Jones, who is already riding a hot seat. If he drops another game against an SEC opponent, look for Jones to potentially be removed from his position during the season.