When you are a (+29) point underdog, things usually don’t go your way. When you play the Alabama Crimson Tide, you’re almost guaranteed that things won’t go your way.
Such was the case for the Tennessee Vols as they lost their 12th consecutive game to their rival down south on Saturday.
Alabama showed why they are the number one team in the country and Tua Tagovailoa showed why he is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy on the first drive of the game.
The Vols had Alabama in a 3rd-and-10 on the UT 35, but a complete lack of pressure on Tagovailoa allowed him to find Jaylen Waddle for the first down. Four plays later, he found his favorite target, Jerry Jeudy in the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.
It was an absolutely beautiful throw on Tagovailoa’s end, matched with just as great a catch from Jeudy to make the game 7-0.
Tennessee came out on their first drive and did exactly what they weren’t supposed to do this game - turn the ball over.
Jarrett Guarantano and the offense faced a 3rd-and-10 after missing out on a throw to open Marquez Callaway on first down. Guarantano failed to recognize the blitz during his pre-snap reads and the result was a strip-sack by Xavier McKinney.
Christian Miller recovered the ball at the Tennessee three-yard line and Alabama punched it in two plays later to make the score 14-0.
It didn’t get any better as the Vols started their next drive with a five yard loss on a handoff to Ty Chandler. A second-down sack on Guarantano left the Vols with their first three-and-out, but at least it wasn’t a fumble.
Things were getting ugly and they were getting ugly quick. At this point, the Vols had (-24) total yards of offense compared to Bama’s 66 total yards.
It couldn’t get any worse, could it?
Oh yes, it could.
Tagovailoa again showed why he is the best quarterback in the country, finding Waddle again, except this time they connected for a 77-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive to push the lead to three scores, 21-0.
Joe Doyle’s second 50+ yard punt of the game pinned Alabama at their own 7, but it didn’t matter. A personal foul on Alontae Taylor not only resulted in his disqualification, but helped the Tide get out of bad field position. Tagovailoa found a wide-open Jeudy on the next play for a 31 yard catch-and-run that helped set up a three-yard touchdown run by Damien Harris.
The rout was officially on at 28-0 and the first quarter wasn’t even finished yet.
Madre London was stuffed for a one-yard loss on 3rd-and-1 on the next drive, but an offside penalty on Anfernee Jennings gave the Vols a first down. It was the first of the game for the Big Orange.
Guarantano was able to find Jauan Jennings over the middle for a 20-yard gain just a couple plays later. The Vols were in Crimson Tide territory for the first time.
Offsetting penalties on Jennings and Alabama defensive back Jared Mayden led to a another great punt by Doyle that pinned the Tide inside their own 10.
A great open-field tackle by Darrin Kirkland Jr. on Najee Harris set up the first three-and-out for Alabama. The Vols began their next drive at their own 48 in great field position.
A good first-down run by Chandler was negated by a stupid personal foul on Chance Hall. Instead of a 2nd-and-1, the Vols were now left with 2nd-and-16. Isaiah Buggs ran right through Ryan Johnson to force a three-and-out that was followed by Doyle’s worst punt of the game.
It went straight off the side of his foot and was good for a miserable 13 yards. Despite the poor kick, the Vols were able to hold Bama to their second straight three-and-out thanks to a holding call on first down.
A defensive holding call on safety Deionte Thompson gave Tennessee a first down on the UT 35. Two plays later, Guarantano chucked it up and found Josh Palmer on the right sideline for a 30-yard gain on a spectacular play, but it didn’t come without a price.
Both players were hurt on the play and backup quarterback Keller Chryst came in to take over for Guarantano.
He was great for the Vols. Aided by a remarkable one-handed catch by Chandler, Chryst drove Tennessee down the field in just three plays for their first touchdown of the game. It’s no surprise that it came off a Chandler reception and the Vols cut the lead back to three scores, 28-7.
A failed onside kick attempt led to Josh Jacobs’ second touchdown of the day, pushing the score to 35-7.
Chryst led the Vols to their first third down conversion of the game on a beautiful throw to Jennings for a 23-yard gain. Offensive coordinator Tyson Helton continued to pull no punches, calling a flea-flicker on the next play that saw Jennings record another big catch. This time, it was a 40-yard completion to the Bama 20.
Chryst then found Tyler Byrd - remember him? - over the middle on 2nd-and-10 for a 20-yard touchdown for Tennessee’s second touchdown of the game, 35-14.
UT’s defense couldn’t hold up, however, as Tagovailoa and Irv Smith Jr. hooked up three times for 37 yards and a touchdown right before halftime to increase the lead to 42-14.
The Vols were able to match the scoring in the second quarter, but were outgained 351-169 in the first half. Included was an obscene (-13) yards on the ground - a stat that will never bode well when facing the Nick Saban Crimson Tide.
Tennessee received the ball to start the second half and it couldn’t have started off worst as Chandler made a huge mistake, downing the ball on the Vols’ own 3 via a fair catch after the receiving the kickoff.
It got worse from there. Chryst was stepped on while dropping back to hand the ball off and the end result was a safety due to Chryst’s knee hitting the ground before he could get rid of the ball.
The score was now 44-14 and a personal foul pushed the ball back 15 more yards on the kickoff.
The Crimson Tide started their next drive at their own 46, which led to Tagovailoa’s fourth touchdown pass of the day. A 51-14 lead was the beginning of the end for Vols, if it hadn’t already begun prior to the most recent touchdown.
Kyle Phillips made an extraordinary play, breaking multiple tackles on his way to the end zone after an interception to bring the score to 51-21, but Alabama continued to pull away with a final score of 58-21.