If Tennessee learned anything about what it takes to beat a good team on the road from earlier blowouts against California and Florida it wasn't evident in Tuscaloosa. The pattern was similar as they failed to match their opponent's initial intensity, made a token first half rally before fading in the second half like a boxer that has lost the will to fight.
In those three contests the Vols were outscored by the embarrassing total of 145 to 67. That's an average defeat of 48 to 22 in the season opener and against their two biggest rivals — all games the Vols should have been emotionally and mentally prepare to lay it on the line. Forget knowing how to win on the road UT doesn't even know how to compete.
The bottom line for Alabama: 41 points, 510 yards, 27 first downs, 84 offensive plays, no turnovers and one punt. Where the Tide's dominance really shows is in time of possession — 37:38 to 22:22. And over the final three quarters that advantage jumps up — 30:13 to 14:47. To make matters worse Bama suspended two starting linemen and its second leading rusher before the game.
The bigger picture: Phillip Fulmer is now 1-6 against Urban Myer and Saban, two coaches he'll have to face every year in SEC play. Is it too much to expect a program the caliber of Tennessee's to play its best in the biggest games on the schedule? Is this the worst defense the Vols have ever had under Fulmer? Can it be fixed this season? Who's to blame?
And here's one more you have to ponder. How did Saban manage to assemble such a talented and well coordinated coaching staff in the span of a single offseason, and after two years away from college football?
Those are the questions Big Orange fans have been asking themselves since the most one-sided loss the Vols have suffered against Alabama since 1986. Fortunately, the next four games are at home.
Here are the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-Alabama game. Grades of 90-100 are regarded as championship quality. Grades of 80-89 equate to top 25 worthy, grades of 70-79 are winning marks. Grades of 60-69 are passing but problematical and won't be good enough to defeat a quality opponent. Any grade below 60 is considered failing. Special teams are included among defensive ratings but they aren't factored into the defense's total score. Each score will be followed by a brief comment. Further analysis to follow.
LINEBACKERS (84) The highlight of the day on defense was the play of UT's linebackers who combined for 30 tackles in a long day's night. Jerod Mayo had 11 (9 solo) as did Ryan Karl (8 unassisted). Rico McCoy added eight solo stops and gets high style points. UT's striker since Kevin Burnett. Rico had the Vols only sack of the game albeit for only a 1-yard loss. This unit played well vs. Bama but when you're getting sub par performances in the defensive line and the secondary it's hard for LBs to shine. They were also on the field virtually the entire game as no UT reserve linebacker contributed a single start. If one of these stalwarts goes down, who will step up? To this point, the Vols have been very fortunate in the injury department.
DEFENSIVE LINE (49) The fact UT's D-line couldn't better exploit the depth depleted Alabama offensive line, which was short two starters, is particularly discouraging. No one has emerged as a disrupter that can demand double-teams. There's some talent at defensive end, which seems to underperform in big games, but the tackles are ordinary by SEC standards and beneath what Tennessee fans have seen the last two decades. Tackles Demonte Bolden, Jonathan Mapu, Dan Williams and Walter Fisher combined for seven of the Vols 80 tackles, as did defensive ends Wes Brown, Robert Ayers, Antonio Reynolds and Xavier Mitchell. That's 14 tackles from an eight-man rotation with no sacks and one hurry by Williams, who was also flagged for a critical third down late hit in the first half.
SECONDARY (41) This might be piling on a bit given the lack of support from the defensive front, but it's difficult to overlook coverage this poor. Sprinkle in some blown assignments and pass interference penalties and it was down right AWFUL. Again there is talent in the secondary and it can probably make significant progress the remainder of this season. Lack of experience, depth and versatility are the major problems at this point. To their credit starters — Jonathan Hefney (8/1), Marcelous Johnson (7/1), Brent Vinson (6/1) and Eric Berry (2/2) — did make 28 tackles and allowed only one pass longer than 22 yards.
OVERALL (55) A failing grade for sure but the score would be lower if not for the fact that Alabama had an excellent game plan that was well executed. Wilson and D.J. Hall had career best games and the Tide overcame adversity with inspired play. Any evaluation of UT's defensive play that doesn't take into account Bama's level of performance is both incomplete and unfair. Additionally, the Vols' offense didn't do as much to control the ball and allow the defense to catch a breather. There's plenty of blame to go around and that's the way it usually is in this type of meltdown. John Chavis' defensive staff appeared to make some adjustments in the secondary but it was hard to notice because none of them worked. They tried press coverage, man coverage, zone coverage and some nickel packages, but Wilson was well schooled in recognizing the defense and finding the open man. The Tide also did a good job of moving Hall around and forcing the Vols to adjust. He also escaped pressure and picked up some key first downs with the run which took away some of UT's aggression.
SPECIAL TEAMS (67) Another so-so day at the office for UT's kicking game. Colquitt averaged 41.2 yards on five punts two of which were touchbacks. The Vols had no punt returns while LaMarcus Coker averaged 22 yards on six kick returns with a long of 34. A big return for the Vols could have shifted momentum several times in the game. Javier Arenas had a 62-yard kick return to set up an Alabama score. The lone bright spot for the Vols was Daniel Lincoln's 45-yard field goal at the end of the first. All things considered Lincoln is probably the most pleasant surprise of a roller-coaster season.