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Column: Saturday More About Alabama, Not Vols

Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

Let me start off by saying Saturday’s result was in no way acceptable. Alabama defeated Tennessee 58-21 in front of a Neyland Stadium crowd that had quite a bit of crimson in it. The Tide’s 58 points were the most they scored against the Vols in the rivalry’s history, the most points Tennessee had ever allowed in Neyland Stadium, and the fourth-most points the Vols had given up since 1937.

There’s nothing acceptable about that. The Vols should never lose to any team by over 30 points, and they certainly shouldn’t give up almost 60 points to any team, no matter how good they are. Tennessee should never be bad enough to do that. But they did that on Saturday, and there aren’t any moral victories to be had.

But Saturday wasn’t about how bad Tennessee is, in my opinion. It has more to do with just how absolutely dominant Alabama is this season.

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Saturday spoke to just how wide the gap is between the Vols and Alabama, yes. And Jeremy Pruitt was right when he said Tennessee won’t be able to slow down the Tide until they can start getting more players in via recruiting. But the Vols’ loss to Alabama wasn’t because they’re an incapable team; it had more to do with just how overwhelming the Tide’s offense is this year.

Alabama has scored 50 or more points in six of their eight games this season. They’ve totaled at least 500 yards of offense in every single game they’ve played this year, and they’ve averaged at least seven yards per play in every contest as well.

Simply put, this Alabama offense is just about as unstoppable as a college football offense has ever been.

Tennessee’s defense didn’t play well enough to win on Saturday, that’s a fact. The Vols also were without starting inside linebacker Daniel Bituli for the first half, and starting freshman cornerback Alontae Taylor got ejected in the first half after hitting an Alabama player. Starting safety Micah Abernathy was also out for the game.

Those aren’t excuses, but they provide a little bit more context to Saturday’s blowout loss at least.

More context: The Vols “held” Alabama to their second-lowest yards per play average in a single game this season. Alabama averaged 7.36 yards per play against Tennessee, and the fewest yards per play they’ve averaged in a game this season was 7.17 yards a play against Ole Miss in a 62-7 win.

No, those results aren’t something to be proud of if you’re a Vol fan. But the context shows just how powerful Alabama’s offense has been. They didn’t just do this to Tennessee; they’ve done this to every team they’ve played, and they’ve usually done worse to their opponents.

The even crazier thing about Alabama is that they’ve been doing this to Power Five schools. The Tide aren’t just beating up on lower-tier schools; they’re amassing these stats against teams in Power Five conferences and in the SEC. Yes, Louisville, Ole Miss, and Arkansas aren’t world beaters by any means, but they aren’t Arkansas State or Louisiana-Lafayette, the other teams Alabama has played this season.

But Alabama hasn’t discriminated. They’ve tortured every team they’ve played this year.

So far this season, Alabama has played just one ranked team, and they thoroughly punished them too. Alabama beat Texas A&M, who was ranked No. 21 at the time and was still ranked this weekend, by a score of 45-23. That was the slimmest margin of victory for Alabama all season, but they still put up nearly 50 points and averaged 8.59 yards per play.

Tennessee’s roster is still a far cry from where it needs to be. That was never more evident than when the Vols would line up on offense and Alabama’s front seven would blast by UT’s offensive line. But this Alabama team is in the conversation for being the greatest college football team of all-time, and Vol fans got to see why on Saturday.

The Vols and Jeremy Pruitt will be judged this season by what they do in the last game of this month and the rest of November. Tennessee is trying to make a bowl game, and they have a real chance with the progress they’ve shown. Saturday doesn’t take away from that.

Alabama is a juggernaut. The Vols shouldn’t be in the spot where they are right now, and they should never be as far behind the Tide as they are, but that’s where they are. That’s not Jeremy Pruitt’s fault. The man whose fault it is was on Alabama’s sideline on Saturday acting like he had something to do with the Tide getting that win.

You could argue he did have something to do with Alabama winning that game, actually: He left Tennessee’s roster and program in the state it’s currently in, after all.

Nonetheless, Saturday had more to do with Alabama and just how far ahead they are of everyone right now rather than the state of Tennessee’s program. The Vols defeated Auburn last weekend, and they have a real chance to find six wins this season.

Saturday is unacceptable. But Alabama has been doing that to everyone this season, and it’s not as big of an indictment on the Vols as you might think.

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