KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No team in the country has been more efficient than Alabama, but Saturday’s start against Tennessee was impressive even by the Tide’s sky-high standard.
It only took 21 offensive plays for Alabama to score four touchdowns, taking a 28-0 lead against the Vols and cruising to a 58-21 win. It’s the most points scored by Alabama in this rivalry and continued Nick Saban’s undefeated run against the Vols here on the “Third Saturday in October.”
It also extended Saban’s undefeated run against former assistant coaches and was the 12th such win by 21 points or more. Jeremy Pruitt’s group showed a lot of fight near the end of the first half, but even that effort, led by backup quarterback Keller Chryst after Jarrett Guarantano was knocked out of the game, was as effective as bailing out water from a canoe in the middle of a monsoon. Each time Tennessee started moving in the right direction, the Tide responded almost immediately with a touchdown drive.
That cycle went back and forth until star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa exited the game after leading a touchdown drive on the Tide’s first offensive possession of the third quarter. Tagovailoa completed 19-of-29 passes for 306 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. His excellence is being normalized to the point where that stat line and a handful of missed throws makes it seem like he was “off” today, but in reality, Tagovailoa was probably still the most efficient, effective and dangerous quarterback in the country on Saturday afternoon.
Three things to know about Alabama’s dominant win:
1. Alabama showcased its ridiculous depth at the skill positions. Saban, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and the offensive staff has a problem that any other coaching staff would kill for: having far too many starter-caliber players at running back and wide receiver. Against Tennessee, they didn’t even wait for the blowout to start to get in some good work for the rotational players. Josh Jacobs, Alabama’s No. 3 running back, started the game and saw the most work in the first half, carrying the ball 12 times for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Damien Harris had an afternoon of light work, getting just three carries for 12 yards. Devonta Smith, the team’s second-leading receiver, missed the game and opened up an opportunity for speedy freshman Jaylen Waddle to get a lot of action at wide receiver in addition to his contributions on special teams. Waddle was a frequent target for Tagovailoa in the first half, getting four catches on five targets for 117 yards, much of it on a 77-yard touchdown. In total, all four of Tua’s touchdowns went to four different receivers, with Irv Smith and Henry Ruggs also seeing more targets with Smith out.
No one else in the country has running back or wide receiver rooms as deep as Alabama, and from kickoff on, it seemed like they were using this Tennessee defense as a chance to “give guys a look.” That’s a disappointing reality for Tennessee, and terrifying for the rest of the SEC.
2. Jeremy Pruitt is dealing with buy-in issues. Every new coach struggles on some level getting the entire locker room, most of whom he did not recruit, to get on board with the new staff. Coaches use “buy-in” as a buzz word, so it gets coach-speak-y, but the willingness to hold yourself to a high standard on a day-in, day-out basis is absolutely necessary to avoid getting embarrassed against the best teams in the SEC. Alabama is going to beat a lot of teams badly, but Tennessee contributed to the lopsided result with mistakes, penalties and turnovers.
At halftime, Pruitt told CBS Sports’ Jamie Erdahl that his message to the team included a promise that could also be interpreted as a threat. After noting that he saw some good play from a few players, Pruitt promised he would recruit new players who would take the spots of those players not upholding that standard.
3. Keller Chryst did a good job in Guarantano’s place. We’ll see what Guarantano’s status is moving forward, but Chryst did exactly what he was hoping to do when he committed to the Vols after transferring from Stanford. Tennessee has very good wide receivers and Chryst had success finding Jauan Jennings and Ty Chandler down the field, allowing them to make plays against Alabama’s defensive backs. Whenever Tennessee tried to run right at the teeth of Alabama’s defense they were getting nothing, but there are some positives to take away from the passing game’s success in the second quarter.
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