"An 18-play drive and an 11-play drive that took a lot of time off the clock. It was a rivalry game. Both teams played very hard and physically, but we only ran three offensive plays in the fourth quarter before the very end."
Asked if the fourth-quarter domination proved that Tennessee held a decisive physical advantage over the Tide along the line of scrimmage, Franchione didn't disagree. "When you let them put together an 18-play drive and an 11-play drive, then you feel like you didn't hold up there at the end. The line of scrimmage was part of that."
To the casual observer, it certainly appeared that the Volunteer squad was bigger and stronger, a problem that can only be solved in the weight room and on the recruiting trail. But on that point Franchione chose his words carefully. "It could be. I'll have to think about that one a little bit, but we may need to close the (talent) gap."
Instead, he preferred to talk about the positives. "I think the way we came from behind to gain the lead typifies how our kids responded," Franchione said. "Our players never gave up. They kept believing in themselves and made some plays.
"And our fans were great. I'm sorry we couldn't give them a win. The kids played hard and fought hard the whole way. We'll get them next year."
A quick touchdown drive late in the third quarter made the score 24-21, Alabama. So technically the Tide gave up yet another four-quarter lead. But Franchione rejects the notion that the team let down. "I didn't feel that at all. I thought they played hard on every play. We just needed a stop or two at the end. They fought all they way."
Franchione named players of the week at various positions.
- Offensive lineman of the game: Marico Portis.
- Offensive backs of the game: Santonio Beard and Sam Collins.
- Special Teams player of the game: Nick Ridings.
- Defensive linemen of the week: Kindal Moorehead and Saleem Rasheed.
- Defensive back of the week: Hirchel Bolden.
- Offensive scout team players of the week: Jason Williams, Marquez Dupree and Josh Smith.
- Defensive scout team players of the week: Roman Harper, Eric Moore and Marc Miller.
The effort may have been improved, but once again Alabama's offense struggled when called upon to come from behind. "We've had some problems," Franchione admitted. "I don't know that we're an air-ball team where we can just throw, throw, throw. That's not necessarily our strength. Obviously we have problems in our ‘may day' offense."
After Tennessee's impressive 18-play drive to take the lead, Alabama got the ball back with 8:54 to go in the game. But three incomplete passes later the Tide punted the ball back, and Tennessee drove for the game-clinching score.
"We can beat ourselves up over (play calling) if we want to," Franchione said, talking about the decision to throw the football. "The first play that we called had been a highly successful pass play for us this year. We threw it last week for a touchdown to Sam Collins. It's been a really, really good play for us. We had the tight end open, and we didn't execute it very well. Another time we threw it to Freddie Milons.
"We had some success Saturday running the football, but our success on offense was by being balanced, mixing it up run and pass. We moved Tyler around a good bit, not letting them tee off on any one particular aspect of the offense. That was how we played the entire game."
For three consecutive weeks Tyler Watts had been the story of Bama's offense, throwing fairly well while setting records rushing the football. But Saturday his statistics were more modest: 10-of-23 passing for 165 yards and a net minus 1 yard rushing the football.
Franchione talked about his quarterback; "Tyler is a hard-fighting young man. Gritty. I don't know if fans realize the hits he takes in the passing game. He was pretty sore after the game, but he gave us a chance (to win). He did miss a couple of throws that he'll normally make. But I thought he did a lot of good things. He put us in a lot of good checks at the line of scrimmage.
"We ask a lot of him, and he did a lot for us. There's not one selfish hair on that young man's body."
In previous games the Alabama option play had broken for big yardage, most often with quarterback Tyler Watts leading the way. But the Tennessee defense dictated a different strategy, and the Tide tailbacks benefited. Franchione explained; "We have two type of option plays that we use, one where Tyler will probably pitch and one where Tyler will probably run. Yesterday was a ‘probable pitch' day. From watching the film, going in we had a strong anticipation that would be the case. We just don't try to force anything."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Normally, this would be a subscription story, accessible only to Crimson Ticket holders. Obviously the bills have to be paid, which is why BamaMag.com uses the subscription model for much of our content. But we frankly wanted to provide this story to all our readers, as an example of the daily stories and articles available on the website.
If you don't currently subscribe, we'd ask that you consider a monthly trial. Only $4.95 (less than 10 cents per story during the season) gains access to all our articles, including photo reports, football notebooks, player profiles, recruiting, game previews and much more.
Please accept our invitation to try Crimson Ticket out for a month. If it doesn't seem worth price, let the subscription lapse. Then, at the next home football game, take us up on our standing offer. Look either Kirk or me up; we'll buy you a drink and call it even.