Danny Parker's thoughts
First 23 minutes, all Alabama and elite wide receiver Amari Cooper. Next 37 minutes, mostly Tennessee.
Having predicted a 35-6 loss for the Volunteers, expectations weren't high. That was partially true because I knew last Saturday that the odds of senior quarterback Justin Worley taking a single snap registered somewhere between slim and none. However, the element of mobility is one area where Worley's replacement(s) could affect the Crimson Tide—and the next four foes.
The staff didn't wait long before making the call to the bullpen, pulling starter Nathan Peterman after nine plays in two series resulted in 30 yards. The redshirt sophomore didn't have a catastrophic mistake but apparently the staff had seen enough. Have to assume Joshua Dobbs is the starter the rest of the year, especially after seeing him run for 75 yards on 19 attempts on top of scrambling away from sacks on numerous occasions.
The sack of Dobbs on a loss of 9 late in the fourth quarter was a horrendous decision by the sophomore but one Mike Bajakian and other coaches can use as a teaching tool.
Have to like the resilience shown by Tennessee in all phases, especially the defense. After surrounding 20 points and 253 yards in the opening quarter, the Vols gave up just 14 points and 216 yards the rest of the way.
The wide receiver corps had one of its better games of the season and looked much more like the unit Tennessee fans thought it would be going into late August.
Using just one player to guard Cooper is and was perplexing. More accurate throws and the All-American and future NFL Draft first-round selection would have gone for even more than 224 yards on nine catches.
On teams, Cameron Sutton cannot continue to bobble or drop punts. That must be cleaned up. Evan Berry showed some burst and got the sellout crowd going early with a solid return.
Special teams — B
Randy Moore's thoughts
Fourth-ranked Alabama outscored Tennessee 27-0 over the first 18 minutes of Saturday night’s game at Neyland Stadium, then Tennessee rallied to outscore Bama 20-7 over the final 42 minutes. I give the Vols an F for the first 18 minutes and an A for the final 42. That averages out to a C.
With Justin Worley injured, Nathan Peterman started at quarterback but couldn’t generate anything. Joshua Dobbs came on for the Vols’ third possession and flat-out starred. He missed some passes – that’s why he didn’t start from Game 1 – but Dobbs made enough throws to finish 19 for 32 for 192 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, he invigorated the ground game by rushing 19 times for 100 gross yards, including 75 net yards. Simply put, Tennessee’s offense looked the best it has all season against a quality defense.
With Dobbs distracting Bama’s defense, running back Jalen Hurd ran 16 times for 59 yards and backup Marlin Lane three times for 48 yards. It’s amazing how much difference a mobile quarterback makes, isn’t it?
Defensively, Tennessee was shredded in the first quarter, allowing 210 passing yards and 253 total yards. To put that in perspective, Alabama was on pace to post 1,012 yards of total offense, including 840 passing yards. Vol defenders allowed another TD on Bama’s first possession of the second quarter, putting the Big Orange in a 27-0 hole. Bama finished 11 of 15 on third-down conversions, which was the story of the game.
Tennessee deserves a lot of credit for fighting back to make the final score respectable. At the same time, the Vols deserve low marks for sleep-walking through the first 18 minutes.
Tennessee’s special teams were solid. Matt Darr averaged 41.8 yards per punt. Aaron Medley nailed field goals of 27 and 24 yards. Cam Sutton fumbled a punt return that lost four yards but didn’t lose possession. Evan Berry popped a 33-yard kickoff return and appeared to be one block from breaking another one, finishing with three returns for 63 yards. He’s electrifying with the ball in his hands.
If you could dismiss the first 18 minutes, Tennessee played a heck of a game. You can’t dismiss those 18 minutes, however, so the result is a 34-20 loss and so-so grades from this observer:
Defense — C
Offense — C
Special teams — C
Steven Peake's thoughts
All things considered I did not think Tennessee looked that bad but a 27-point hole to Alabama is tough for even the best in the country to climb out of.
Joshua Dobbs was the biggest positive to take from this game. Dobbs was the Vols’ leading rusher with 75 yards while at the same time, throwing for 192 yards.
On the third drive of the game Josh Dobbs took over for Nathan Peterman, who took over for the injured Justin Worley. With Tennessee already trailing 13-0, Dobbs' first pass went for 11 yards, immediately igniting the Tennessee crowd. The drive would stall in part to a dropped pass from tight end Ethan Wolf.
After a couple more frustrating drives, Dobbs led his team down the field for three straight scoring drives. Two touchdown drives of 84 yards, the two longest scoring drives of the season for Tennessee.
In the middle of those touchdown drives was the decision to take the three points at the end of the first half. To come away with nothing would have erased any momentum Tennessee had going into the locker room. However, had they gone for it and not picked up the yard on fourth down, it still would have been a three possession game. The coaching staff believes in this team and probably felt they could erase a 17-point half time deficit. However, as 20-point underdogs trying to comeback from down 27 to a team like Alabama, risks need to be taken.
The third down play call before the field goal was what I had hoped to see Tennessee run in short yardage situations a few times this season. However, A.J. Johnson faking the hand-off then freezing instead of hitting the hole hard right after the snap is not how pictured that play in my head.
The Volunteer defense had been the most reliable unit on this team. Tonight was an exception. They allowed a season high 11 of 15 third down conversions. In the previous three SEC games combined, they had only allowed 15.
The four biggest may have been on Alabama’s second drive of the third quarter. The Tide converted four third-downs on their way to a back-breaking touchdown run from Derrick Henry. A 76-yard drive that chewed up about five and a half minutes off of the clock and extended the Alabama lead back to 17.
Tonight, we finally saw the offense show signs of life. Yet, the defense, despite causing two turnovers, had enough let downs to allow Alabama to cruise to a 14-point win.
Special teams —B
Josh Woodward's thoughts
If you take away that horrible first quarter Tennessee played well, Amari Cooper lit Tennessee up on the opening play with a nice swing pass on a misdirection for a touchdown. It was a great first down call for a hyped up defense to over pursue the play. Once you got past the first quarter Tennessee really settled down and played well.
Offensively I thought Joshua Dobbs really helped this football team, it is obvious that they need a mobile quarterback and he answered the call. What amazes me is how he performed considering he was going to redshirt. It shows just how smart of a kid he really is. Butch Jones said after the game that the quarterback position was still open, but I don't see anyway that Dobbs doesn't get the job the rest of the season. Dobbs mobility opened up the running and passing game which made this offense look like we all thought it could. It took some pressure off the offensive line, which only allowed two sacks this game.
Defensively the Vols settled down after that first quarter, they looked to have tired some late in the game. They didn't have an answer for Cooper, but most teams don't. He is by far the best receiver in the country and a guaranteed first round draft pick. This defense swarms to the ball as well as I have seen, they continue to fight even when down.
Special Teams didn't allow the big play tonight which is always a plus. Aaron Medley continues to impress with his accuracy and his leg strength. I believe he has the strongest leg of any kicker Tennessee has had in the last decade. Evan Berry looks good on his returns and as long as he can hold on to the ball he won't lose that spot. The only bobble is Cameron Sutton dropping that punt, but he is the best Tennessee has back there so it is what it is.
Butch Jones post-game video