Another week. Another major Alabama win. This time it was a 45-7 domination of Tennessee. Here is the Bama report card:
Rushing Offense: B
It took Alabama a little while to warm up offensively against the Vols. The rushing attack finished with 272 yards and four touchdowns on 53 carries, but Nick Saban was far from happy at the half when the Crimson Tide disappeared into the locker room ahead by only 21 points. Saban felt that the team was not executing quite well enough on certain plays and that Alabama left another 14 or so points on the field with missed blocks and poor reads in certain situations.
That is why Bo Scarbrough was still on the field late in the fourth quarter, using his bulk to power over from inside the one-yard line a couple of times behind big defensive linemen acting as lead blockers. Jalen Hurts was uncharacteristically quiet on the ground – admittedly he only players on series in the third quarter before being taken out of the game – while Damien Harris again paced the ‘Bama rushing attack. This week Harris went for 72 yards and a touchdown on his 13 carries.
Passing Offense: C-
The passing offense does get a decent downgrade as the only Tennessee points on Saturday came courtesy of a pick-six off of the arm of Tua Tagovailoa in the third quarter. It was an annoying play more than one that was ever going to cost the Crimson Tide here, but the momentum shift that comes with tossing a pick-six – and especially one that happens near the opponents goal line resulting in a 14-point swing – is something that Tagovailoa will have to store away to be sure that it doesn’t happen again.
In fairness to the rookie quarterback, he responded well. Tagovailoa finished 9-of-12 on the day and he hit Henry Ruggs III for a 60-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to even out this afternoon. Interestingly that is Rugg's fifth reception of the season and every single one of his catches has gone for a touchdown.
Rushing Defense: A
As the Alabama offense and special teams took a little while to get going in this one, the Crimson Tide defense took over the game. Tennessee this season has not been good offensively and that trend continued as the Crimson Tide held the Vols to just 1-of-12 on third down, forcing the Tennessee offense to go back to their sideline over and over again.
The first key to stopping any offense is to shut down the rushing attack. Alabama managed this as they held Tennessee to 64 yards on 30 carries. That is an average of just over two yards per carry and it is not a sustainable rushing output if you what to have a chance in any game, let alone against the best team in the country. John Kelly – perhaps Tennessee’s best offensive player – did what he could as he rushed for 63 yards on 12 carries, but the rest of the team went nowhere, with quarterback Jarrett Guarantano being the least effective runner of all.
Passing Defense: A+
As good as the rushing defense was, the Alabama passing defense was even better.
We said in the lead up to this game that Bryant-Denny Stadium is far from the ideal place to make your first road start as a college quarterback. You have to give Guarantano kudos for trying, but the Vols quarterback – and their offense in general – were severely overmatched here.
Guarantano struggled, and that is putting it nicely. He finished his first visit to the rival turf by going 9-of-16 for 44 yards with no touchdowns and an interception as Alabama won its eleventh game in a row in this rivalry.
Special Teams: D
The punt team continues to be a problem for Nick Saban. In the first half, the Crimson Tide were forced into bad field position because of an illegal block on a punt return. This play drew Saban’s ire, but it was nothing compared to the fumble that his punt unit had when receiving their first punt of the second half.
Xavian Marks is not the first player that Alabama has tried as a punt returner this year, nor is he the first to mess up his opportunity by fumbling the ball. Marks though managed to distinguish himself with two fumbles in the second half of this game. The first he managed to fall on and recover himself, but the second he lost after a five-yard return and it was picked up by Rashaan Gaulden of Tennessee. The ‘Bama defense bailed Marks out by interception Guarantano a handful of plays later, but this punt return situation is something that needs to be figured out sooner rather than later.
Alabama absolutely dominated this game and heaped yet more pressure on Butch Jones. The Crimson Tide outgained the Volunteers by almost 500 yards (604 to 108) and if we are being realistic Alabama should have won by another two or three touchdowns to really show the difference in class between the two schools. Saban was not happy with how his team seemed a little more passive than normal, but he will have been pleased that he was able to get backup players some productive playing time against a SEC opponent.