Portions of the 2016 season have felt like 1998 for Tennessee as the Vols made clutch plays in big moments to put themselves in the title hunt heading into Week 7 of the season.
It felt more like 2011 for the Vols on Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium.
The top-ranked Tide (7-0, 4-0 SEC) blasted a worn-out and beat-up UT squad by a final of 49-10 in front of a sold-out crowd in Knoxville, returning to their dominant ways in this series after Tennessee was more competitive in 2014 and 2015.
The Vols certainly didn’t have an impressive performance, but they arguably never had much of a chance in this one. Playing with as many as 10 opening-day starters out, Tennessee (5-2, 2-2 SEC) was physically manhandled by a bigger, stronger, deeper and healthier Alabama team – especially at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s a pretty simple game – it’s a line of scrimmage game,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “When you give up 438 yards rushing and offensively have 32 yards rushing, you’re not even giving yourself an opportunity to be in the game. We had way too many negative yardage football plays.”
The Vols made enough plays to stay in it for a half. Despite the Tide outgaining the Vols by over 250 yards in the first half, Tennessee got a sack-strip from Derek Barnett and a recovery from Dimarya Mixon to set up an Alvin Kamara touchdown that cut Alabama’s lead to 14-7 at the 9:47 mark of the second quarter.
Outside of one second-half field goal for the Vols, it was all Alabama from there.
The Tide rolled through Tennessee to finish the game on a 35-3 run. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts finished the game with three rushing touchdowns – a season high. The Tide scored two non-offensive touchdowns as well – one on a punt return by Eddie Jackson, and another on a pick-six by Ronnie Harrison, extending their streak of games with a non-offensive score to nine.
Alabama then left no doubt on an 85-yard touchdown run by Bo Scarbrough that put Alabama up 49-10 with 11:38 remaining and sent many of the remaining UT fans scurrying to the exits.
Alabama dominated almost every statistical category, and had an enormous 438-32 total yardage advantage on the ground. Five different players carried the ball five or more times for the Tide, with Hurts leading the way with 132 yards and Scarbrough and Harris teaming up for over 200 combined yards as well.
Playing with a patchwork offensive line that consisted of three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior, the Vols were helpless to regularly protect quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs went down for three sacks, while the entire UT offense sputtered against an Alabama defensive front loaded with NFL-ready talent. Tennessee was without center Dylan Wiesman and Jashon Robertson, while Chance Hall and Brett Kendrick both left the game. Drew Richmond, Venzell Boulware and true freshman Marcus Tatum were among the younger players who saw extended action.
“When you look at being down (Kendrick, Robertson and Wiesman), the one thing you can’t replace is their experience,” Jones said. “I thought our younger guys battled and did some good things.”
The Vols get a much-needed bye next week, with a trip to South Carolina following that.
“I’m very concerned (with the injuries), but that is football,” Jones added. “When you usually have a run of injuries, it only affects one or two position groups. It’s affected every position group. That’s why this bye week is very important. We have to get our health back. There has to be a sense of urgency for our youngsters to get better and help us on the final stretch after the bye week.”
Final stats from UT-Alabama pic.twitter.com/fcgVkYRe7n
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) October 15, 2016