Tennessee fought valiantly, but ultimately came up short on the road against the No. 8 team in the country. The game did not go as many expected it to, but the end result was all too familiar for Tennessee, as the Vols now fall to 3-4 on the season. Alabama advances to 7-1 and now prepares for their annual SEC West showdown against LSU in two weeks. Tennessee will travel to face a bruised Kentucky team next weekend in Lexington on Halloween night, as the Vols now enter into the more manageable portion of their schedule after today’s game.
Here are five key takeaways from Tennessee’s 19-14 loss to Alabama:
Missed opportunities: Tennessee players and fans are going to be steaming over this one for a long time. Tennessee held a fourth-quarter lead over Alabama in Tuscaloosa with 5:49, and, once again, were unable to escape the game with a victory. Tennessee’s defense needed one more stop in a game that saw them get plenty of them, but an eight-play, 71-yard drive that took 3:25 off the clock ended in an Alabama touchdown by Derrick Henry from 14 yards out. The two-point conversion would fail, but the Tide had pulled ahead 19-14, and would hold on for the victory.
This becomes Tennessee’s fourth loss of the season, and all-four have been by seven points or fewer. While the progress is evident, Tennessee’s inability to consistently close out big games when they have a late lead will haunt what could have otherwise been an incredibly special season.
Oh, Henry: I predicted Derrick Henry would be the game’s MVP in our pre-game prediction panel, and while I would have given anything to be wrong, Henry proved that he is still one of the elite backs in all of college football. To Tennessee’s credit, nothing came easy for Henry. He was hit hard and often by Tennessee defenders, but Henry kept churning and kept battling until some cracks opened up. Henry finished with 28 carries for 143 yards and two touchdowns, and was easily the most consistent part of Alabama’s offense all game. He was the safety net when Jake Coker looked rattled, and he was the bulldozer when Alabama needed tough yards.
The best part about Derrick Henry if you’re Tennessee is that you’ll likely never have to face him again, because that man is NFL-ready right now.
(Not so) Special Teams: There’s no great way to put it, tonight was simply not a good night for Tennessee’s various special teams groups. Aaron Medley missed three (tough) kicks, any of which could have completely changed the complexion of the game. Evan Berry (due to no fault of his own) only got one shot at a kickoff return, and took it to the 31. Cam Sutton had only one punt return as well, for a modest three yards, and both he and Alvin Kamara appeared to call for a fair-catch on punts that looked returnable.
Even the uber-consistent Trevor Daniel appeared off in this game. His 53-yarder was a mis-hit that caught a favorable bounce, and his others were nowhere close to the “boomers” that we have come to expect from him this season. Tennessee needed a great game from their special teams units in this game if they were going to win, and while it wasn’t a dismal performance from top-to-bottom, it certainly wasn’t their best of the year.
So close: It’s becoming too consistent of a theme, but Team119 really is close to being a good football team. A loss is a loss, and Tennessee won’t receive any bonus points for almost-wins, but even the harshest of Butch Jones’ critics would have to admit that this team is lightyears better now than it was when he took the head coach position in late-2012.
This team was really banged up today with serious injuries sidelining critical players on both sides of the ball. The defense started a true freshman in Darrin Kirkland Jr., as well as a few players who were listed as “backups” before the start of the season; and the entire right side of the offensive line was comprised of true freshmen Jack Jones and Chance Hall making their first ever collegiate start. There were struggles at times today, and there will be struggles down the road this season, but given all of the adversity today, this team exceeded national expectations.
Bright future: I touched on this in the paragraph above, but this team has a lot of young talent that point to much better days ahead. Tennessee started just two seniors on defense today (safeties Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil), and only one on offense (LT Kyler Kerbyson). The two-deep is littered with freshmen and sophomores, and many of those players are already making big plays for this team.
Losing hurts, and nobody knows that better than Tennessee and their fans this year. This team now has four losses by a combined 17 points, which tells a few stories…It says that they are talented enough to compete with anyone in the country, but not experienced enough to consistently come out on the winning side. As these young players develop and mature, Tennessee will find themselves celebrating after more and more games of this magnitude.
Final stats pic.twitter.com/jAHZiEqdTv
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) October 24, 2015