Tennessee got blown off the field Saturday in a 49-10 loss to the rival Alabama Crimson Tide. We don't really want to spend a lot of time reliving that, so let's just get to the trends.
- Time to rest. SEC Country has a helpful list of Tennessee players who were out by the end of the Alabama game. A staggering 17 of those players had started at least one game this season. And while Danny O'Brien and Preston Williams aren't coming back and Jalen Reeves-Maybin is rumored to be out for the season, that still leaves 14 starters who need time to recover. An earlier bye week would have been great, but it's better late than never and is going to be absolutely essential for getting key contributors back on the field for the stretch run.
- A well-placed bye. Last year, Tennessee went into Tuscaloosa to take on the eventual national champions and took the Tide to the wire, taking the lead late in the fourth quarter before falling by just five points. This year, a Tennessee team with almost every starter returning got blown out by 39. What changed? Last year, the Vols got a week to rest while the Tide were coming off consecutive games against Georgia, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. This year? Tennessee was coming off consecutive games against Florida, Georgia, and Texas A&M and had the injury list to prove it, while the Tide had faced just one likely bowl team in the past three weeks. What a difference a schedule makes.
- An elite offense. Tennessee, when healthy, has a good offense. The performances against Florida in the second half and Texas A&M prove that. But after racking up nearly 700 yards in regulation on the road against a top ten team, Vols fans were understandably thinking the offense went beyond merely "good." Enter Alabama. Tennessee's offense didn't have a drive of more than 20 yards until midway through the third quarter. Before that drive, the Vols had picked up just 53 yards on 41 plays, an abysmal 1.3 yards per play. Yes, UT was missing four starters on the offensive line by the end of the game. But Tennessee wasn't moving the ball at the beginning of the game, when they had a stretch of four consecutive third downs with the following results: sack, sack, sack, intercepted screen pass. And yes, Alabama has a very good defense (although they looked vulnerable against Ole Miss and Arkansas), but those numbers are incredibly bad. The offense is good enough to still play well down the stretch, but they aren't as good as they looked against Texas A&M. And if they have to play with a second-string offensive line for any length of time, those games against South Carolina, Missouri, and Vanderbilt will get a lot scarier.
- Offensive line depth. We saw Tennessee's offensive line--down one player--as the team's biggest weakness early in the season. Then Chance Hall came back, and the Vols offense started to move the ball. But subtracting Dylan Wiesman and Jashon Robertson after the Texas A&M game brought the unit crashing down again. Depth struggles on the line were expected early in Butch Jones' tenure, as the shadow of Derek Dooley's empty 2012 recruiting class still loomed large. But in year four, the Vols are still struggling mightily to replace even one injured player. The coaching staff was counting heavily on Dontavius Blair and Drew Richmond to contribute in 2016, and after neither progressed as expected, Tennessee has been unable to produce a backup plan.
- Carrying the fight to Alabama and keeping it there for 60 minutes. The Vols never really got much going on Saturday, but after their first actual drive of the game got them into the Alabama red zone down 28-7 in the third quarter, Tennessee elected for a field goal that might as well have been a white flag. The first team offense got two more drives before the coaches turned to Quinten Dormady, and both finished with punts on fourth down (4th and 6 down 35-10, and 4th and 1 down 42-10). With as badly as the injury bug had hit, Tennessee coaches would've been forgiven for moving to the second team down four scores with less than 20 minutes to play. But instead, the coaches were caught in the worst of both worlds, not playing to win, but also not pulling the starters.
- Quality of victory. Tennessee has three wins this season over teams that have spent time in the top 25. One of those teams lost as a two-touchdown favorite this weekend. Another lost as a three-touchdown favorite. And the one that didn't lose is the one that needs to lose if the Vols want a chance at a rematch against Alabama or Texas A&M in Atlanta.
- Derek Barnett is still good. Tennessee did roughly one thing well on Saturday: force turnovers. Alabama only turned it over twice, but both gave the Vols a lifeline when they were being overwhelmed on both sides of the ball. And both turnovers came from Derek Barnett. We can't ignore Shy Tuttle, who batted the ball that led to the second turnover, but Barnett finished with an interception and a forced fumble. When nothing else was good, that's real good.