RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article
Tennessee’s contest against Alabama on Saturday night, known by fans across the Southeast as “The Third Saturday in October,” contained a plethora of “what-ifs.”
What if Alabama starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa stayed healthy?
What if Tennessee starting quarterback Brian Maurer stayed healthy?
What if Tennessee backup quarterback Jarrett Guarantano hadn’t fumbled on the goal line on a fourth-and-goal?
But the one question that weighs heaviest in the minds of Vol fans everywhere is this: What if the officials really were biased against Tennessee?
Fans always have gripes against officiating at every level and in every league, but for Tennessee on Saturday, the fans may have had a legitimate argument for bias against their team.
There were a handful of instances of suspect officiating on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. Play was blown dead when Tennessee lined up in what appeared to be a trick-play formation when the Vols were down 14-7 with first-and-goal to go. After deliberation, no explanation was ever given, and Alabama’s defense — which had previously been scrambling to figure out how to line up — was able to get positioned and defend what Tennessee was going to run. A questionable holding call in the third quarter against freshman Wanya Morris overturned a Jauan Jennings touchdown run out of the wildcat formation, too.
But the one call the fans — and Tennessee’s players and coaches — seem the most frustrated about is an unnecessary roughness call against redshirt senior outside linebacker Darrell Taylor.
“I didn’t [see the replay], but I know for a fact we’re out there playing football,” senior safety Nigel Warrior said of the penalty after the game. “This is a man’s sport. I saw a little bit of it, and I feel like it shouldn’t have been called. I just feel like it was a little petty.”
After coming up with a sack on third-and-10, it looked as though Taylor and the Vols were going to get the ball back down 21-13 in the third quarter with a chance to tie the game. A shove — if you want to call it that — after the whistle, however, extended Alabama’s drive. Taylor was flagged for a penalty, which gave Alabama an automatic first down. The Tide would score a touchdown on that drive, extending the lead to 28-13.
— Kevin Boilard (@247KevinBoilard) October 20, 2019
Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt wasn’t pleased with the call, either.
“I didn’t see it, and there’s no replay on it. So I have no idea,” Pruitt said after the game. “Here’s the way I look at it, you know, we got a sack there. It was a big part in the game. It’s a one-score game. We’ve stopped them two times in a row. I don’t know what happened.
“But I know this: they hit our quarterback, and he got a concussion, and there wasn’t a flag. So I don’t know.”
Tennessee starting quarterback Brian Maurer was knocked out of the game late in the first quarter after an Alabama defender shoved him after he released the ball. Maurer fell to the ground after the push and hit his head on the back of his own lineman’s leg. After that point, Guarantano led Tennessee’s offense at quarterback for the remaining three quarters.
Nothing can be done about the call at this point, though. The game is over, and the final score of the 2019 Tennessee-Alabama game will always read 35-13 in favor of the Tide.
But the officiating in the game, particularly with that unnecessary roughness call against Darrell Taylor, will have Tennessee fans thinking just one thing until next year’s match-up with the Crimson Tide rolls around: