ILLEGAL TEAM ON THE FIELD. PENALTY IS ACCEPTED. LOSS OF SEASON. REPLAY THE DIRGE.
I haven't had a chance to look at the stats yet, but I really don't need to. The game was relatively closely played in the first half, except that Alabama capitalized on their opportunities while Tennessee didn't. In the second half, Alabama absolutely owned the time of possession while Tennessee made a living out of 1-2-3-punt football.
A few observations:
- Berry, Berry Everywhere. Ok, so we asked for Berry on offense and we got Berry on offense. Yippee. A screen pass to the one guy on the field who's guaranteed to be shadowed by at least two defenders. Yeah, that'll work. Oddly enough, this isn't a surpise; remember how excited we were when Warren was going to be on the team? He was going to be this dynamic force that opened up the offense and we ... wait for it ... threw a single screen pass to him in one of his first games with nary a second attempt. It's the UT way.
- Still no INTs for Stephens. It's hard to find positives in a game like this, but this is one. There was only one questionable pass thrown by Nick, and he was wise enough to get rid of the ball on too-well-covered plays. He's got a great pass, and he's playing smart football. He's a bright spot and we shouldn't overlook that - especially since he didn't get any 1st-team time before the season.
- Miscues. I can remember one deep pass - presumably to Warren - where Warren turned out while Stephens threw in. Another time, Stephens bootlegged to the right and zero receivers were on the right side of the field. The offense still isn't in sync. That's a problem.
- Misdirection? It's not my offense and I am not presuming to know more about the strategy, but I don't understand why UT doesn't have any reverse, RB screens, end arounds, or other misdirection plays in the book. As the game went on, Alabama's defense got more aggressive and the offense had no way of making them pay for it.
- Penalties. I need to see replays before I solidify opinions, but here's the initial take. A few penalties were bogus. A few were valid. All penalties were either drive-killers (our offense) or drive-sustainers (our defense). By now, UT has a reputation for dumb penalties and I think the refs are expecting them. It sure felt like that, and UT did deliver. Still, the bad call were not the reason UT lost. They made things worse, but there were far greater problems.
That's about all. Surprisingly, I had fun. As for the crowd, I'll note my experience.
The UT fans were relatively subdued. On the way to campus, I'd hear the occasional "Roll, Tide!" out of a car window but never any pro-UT cheers. During the Vol Walk, the cheering was meh. Still, I never heard any uber-arrogant swagger (I hate that term, btw) from the UA fans pregame, either. It seemed that UT was worried, but UA was as well.
During the first half, UT had great crowd noise and participation. That was as loud as any Neyland game I've been in (which hasn't been too many, but still). The energy was there, and the team fed off of it. But when the offense stalled quickly in to start the second half, the dread crept in and the crowd began to fade. It was downhill from there.
The UA crowd was energetic, as a travelling UA crowd tends to be. But they never seemed certain of the outcome until 22-3. That was the point where they really started to liven up and accept the inevitable. So again, there's that. (BTW, UT fans were bailing long before then. The trip home was quite easy and pleasant. Absolutely no traffic for me and my super-secret route. Still not telling.)
After the game, the UT fans seemed to act like the outcome was expected. Uhhh, that's a bad reaction to have. Shock and confusion would have been much better. The UA fans weren't obnoxious, though. They played their Lynyrd on their car stereos and yelled their chants, sure, but they weren't in anybody's face about it. I actually had some nice conversations and well wishes on the way out, actually. And the UA guy who was explaining the rivalry on the way out to his friend put it best - something like this:
It's never that both teams are great or that both teams suck; it's that only one of the two teams sucks. That's the rut we're stuck in right now.
I really can't add anything to that. Bingo.