UT staff outsmarted itself

Nick Saban is the highest paid coach in college football and one of the most respected. Contrary to popular opinion, though, he didn't outsmart Tennessee Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

The Vol staff outsmarted itself. And that's why many UT fans are still mad 48 hours later.

You don't need a masters degree in Principles of Football to recognize some obvious blunders made by the Big Orange brain trust. To wit:

There were three overwhelming reasons to run the ball at Bama:

1. It was chewing up the clock and keeping UT's porous defense off the field.

2. Receivers Lucas Taylor (turf toe) and Josh Briscoe (concussion) were hurt, limiting the passing attack.

3. The ground game was clicking. Arian Foster (13 carries for 91 yards) was well on his way to a career day if UT had kept giving him the ball.

Foster bolted for 18 yards on the Vols' first scrimmage play of the second half, yet Tennessee's next seven play calls consisted of five passes, an end-around shovel pass (which Kenny O'Neal dropped) and a four-yard Foster run.

The fifth pass of UT's opening second-half possession was intercepted at Bama's 8-yard line and returned 31 yards, setting up a field goal that padded the Tide lead to 27-17. When the Vols got the ball back their coaching staff seemed to be in panic mode. Six of the next eight play calls were passes, even though freshmen Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones were being forced to fill in for Taylor and Briscoe. The eight plays netted one first down and led to a couple of punts.

The failure to score on either of those two possessions doomed the Vols. By the time Tennessee got the ball again the deficit was 38-17 with 10 minutes remaining, leaving the Vols no choice but to throw on virtually every down.

Here's another coaching gaffe that killed UT: Everyone at Bryant-Denny Stadium recognized in the first quarter that Tennessee's defense could not stop Alabama's offense. That's probably why Saban went against type and opened the game with an on-sides kick: He wanted to strike the first blow.

After Bama's first four possessions produced two touchdowns, a made field goal and a missed field goal, however, the Vol staff still hadn't figured out that the Tide was going to score at will. So, trailing 17-14, Tennessee punted the ball away on fourth-and-one at the Bama 46-yard line. The Tide promptly scored again to go up 24-14.

Then, trailing 27-17 in the third quarter, Tennessee tried a pass on third-and-two at its 48, then punted the ball away on fourth-and-two. Bama needed just seven plays to tack on a field goal that widened the gap to 30-17.

There is no doubt that Tennessee's players made a lot of costly mistakes in Saturday's 41-17 loss. But Tennessee's coaches made some costly mistakes, too.

After humbling setbacks at Cal and Florida in Games 1 and 3, Vol staffers told the team: "You need to stop beating yourself."

Saturday in Tuscaloosa the coaches failed to heed their own advice.


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