Tennessee vs. Alabama is fundamental football posing as performance art. It's a passion play imbued with all the pathos of southern hospitality and hostility. It's two teams bound by tradition and location, torn by dedication and aspiration. For the players it's a rite of passage. For the fans it's a clash of colors. For the coaches it's a test of wills. Saturday's contest was typical Tennessee-Alabama, dominated by defense and decided by the offenses' biggest mistakes rather than their biggest plays. Bama's two biggest mistakes came on the second play of the game and its last offensive snap. Eliminate either of those miscues and you have a different outcome.
Tennessee also made a couple of critical turnovers. The first, an interception, set up Alabama's only touchdown. The second, an interception in the third quarter, cost UT its best chance for a second half touchdown.
|EXPLAIANTION OF THE GRADING SYSTEM|
Offensive ratings - Tennessee vs Alabama.
This is the lowest grade UT's O-line has received this season and it stands to reason since the Vols had their lowest offensive output. The best part of this unit's performance was the fact Erik Ainge wasn't sacked although he was hurried on a few occasions. The worst part was UT's paltry 1.9 yards per carry, caused in part by Bama's five tackles behind the line of scrimmage. No doubt, Alabama has an excellent defense and UT's offensive line is still banged up and without the services of guard Cody Douglas, but this was a sub par game which won't be good enough to beat South Carolina. The Vols had only one yard after the first quarter and only scored three points in the second half.
Tennessee's coaches didn't ask a lot of Ainge against Alabama and that's exactly what they got, as he completed only 10-of-22 passes for 132 yards, one TD and two INTs. The first interception wasn't Ainge's fault but the second INT was inexcusable. The Vols had the ball inside Alabama's 5 yard-line with a 17-10 lead in the third quarter when Ainge forced a throw into coverage that was deflected and picked off, ending a critical UT scoring opportunity. The intended receiver was never open and the timing had been disrupted by the time Ainge released the ball. It was a situation where he had to throw the ball out of the end zone and take the chippy field goal which would have provided a 10-point cushion. Such a lead would have forced Bama into a catch-up mode late in the game and away from its strength. As it stood, Bama continued to pound away with the ground game and had the ball with a chance to take the lead in the final minute of play. It's easy to call it a freshman mistake but under the circumstances he should have been under orders not take any risks. Even better, if you're taking the conservative approach run the ball and take the field goal. Ainge appears to be locking on receivers a little more than he did earlier this season when with seven games under his belt he should start to show signs of progress. The Vols aren't using play action on first and second downs when teams are expecting the run and when faced with third and long play action isn't going to fool anyone. Getting Ainge out of the pocket is another approach to open the passing game. He appears particularly comfortable rolling to his left.
It was a struggle the entire game to move the ball on the ground. Gerald Riggs finished with 39 net yards in 19 carries. Jabari Davis had three yards in four carries. The only bright spot was Cedric Houston who raised the level of his game from recent mediocre performances to finish with 30 yards in seven carries, an average of 4.3 yards per run. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the blocking of fullback Cory Anderson who was blown up in the hole by Bama linebackers more than a few times. Anderson appears to be lunging at defenders as opposed to keeping his legs under him and driving into to them. He picked up another holding penalty in the game and failed to catch any passes although he was open a couple of times. Clearly, there wasn't a lot of running room but UT's backs aren't making tacklers miss as often as they need to be effective. No fumbles for the second straight game was a plus. This is the one position on the team most in need of an upgrade.
Jayson Swain's five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown accounted for most of UT's 132 net yards passing. Every reception the Alabama native made produced either a first down or a touchdown. His 37-yard catch, in which he went over a Tide defender to haul in a pass, was Tennessee's longest play of the game. His 19-yard reception was UT's third largest gain and produced the Vols only offensive touchdown. Swain amassed 80 yards in five plays, UT's 51 other offensive plays produced 115 yards. C.J. Fayton had one catch for 20 yards and Tony Brown caught three passes for 29 yards. Brown also juggled a short pass that turned into an Alabama interception as well as dropping a throw to the sideline that would have given UT a first down. Overall, only three Vol wide receivers caught passes but they accounted for 129 of Tennessee's 195 yards of total offense. Those percentages are great but there's nothing good about receivers the caliber of Robert Meachem, Bret Smith and Chris Hannon being completely shut down.
This wasn't a good performance by UT's offense, but Alabama has a fine defense and getting a vital win eases the impact. The question is: can Tennessee continue to win while getting little production out of its offense?