We thought they would compete, and did they ever. Tennessee battled Alabama play for play in Tuscaloosa today, ultimately falling 19-14 in a flurry of activity on the game's final three drives. Alabama's 13-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter was erased by an electric four play, 75 yard drive capped by Jalen Hurd for a 14-13 Tennessee lead. Alabama responded with a pair of great catches on the sideline and a run by Derrick Henry to surge back in front 19-14. The Vols stopped the two point conversion, picked up one first down, but then had a penalty, a sack, and a sack-fumble by Josh Dobbs to end the threat.
The secret word for 2015 is "close", though some might argue it's "heartbreak" and I won't try to convince you otherwise tonight. The Vols have now lost three games by a combined ten points and another in double overtime to what appear to be three really good and one might be really good teams. Today was the stiffest test, and the Vols again brought their best number two pencil.
There will be what-ifs, most notably surrounding Aaron Medley's three missed field goals, two from 51 yards out. Those what-ifs get magnified by this rivalry even when some of them should be minimized because of the level Alabama is playing at. In 2015, Tennessee has played at that level and come away with a memorable win against Georgia and four heartbreaking losses. That will be encouraging at some point, but probably not tonight.
Almost all of the players wearing white will have another shot at Alabama next year. Between now and then, the Vols need to finish strong to keep the progress they've had their hearts broken for alive. We said this was the first time since 2009 the Vols could believe in maybe, and we got the same result today: maybe turned into almost, and now it becomes that place where we both feel awful and feel proud. Let's hope we're done with the former and on with the latter from here.