After a loss, it's always best to let things settle for a while before trying to come up with anything, simply because doing so allows emotions to normalize and allows yourself to see things more clearly and objectively. If you think about it, though, you should probably do the same thing after a big win for the opposite reasons, so now three days after the Tennessee blowout, here we go:
Obviously it was a huge win for the Crimson Tide, and we played very well almost all afternoon.
Offensively, it was just a great day. The passing game is what powered the offensive attack, and from that perspective, it was as good of a day as realistically possible. We threw a lot of passes, but we also got a ton of completions. We picked up a lot of yardage, had some big plays, came up big on third down, and avoided negative plays (sacks, interceptions, fumbles, etc.) almost entirely. All in all, there was not really anything that we could have done in the passing game to make it better. We didn't run the football very much -- and Saban was very open about the fact that they didn't think we could run the ball that well against the Tennessee defense -- but we didn't have to do so very much considering the efficiency and effectiveness of the passing game. And fortunately, when we chose to run the football, we actually ran it fairly well.
Defensively, the first half went about as expected. We came up with a couple of stops, but the Vols had two very long drives for touchdowns and added on a field goal as well. It was about as I expected, we played hard but ultimately the UT offense was simply going to put up a fair amount of points and we as an offense had to match it. And then in the second half we just shut them down, and the performance just came out of nowhere. The Vols still moved the ball pretty well -- they moved the ball past their own 45 on all but one possession -- but once they got around mid-field, our defense just put the clamps down and the Vols couldn't cash in.
The special teams, too, played well. Arenas had yet another big return, Leigh Tiffin looked pretty good, and P.J. Fitzgerald hit two nice punts.
All in all, it was just a great day for the Tide. Yes we made some mistakes -- the personal foul penalty on Rashad Johnson at the end of the half, the kick-off out of bounds by Tiffin, etc. -- but we generally played very good football all day long.
And now for the part about why you wait a few days... How much of it was Alabama playing that good and how much of it was Tennessee just playing that bad?
Unfortunately, while I would like to say this Tennessee squad is a powerhouse, the truth of the matter is that they aren't very good. Yes they have a ton of talent, much more than we do, but as I wrote in an earlier article, they are currently 4-3 with games remaining against South Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt. Honestly, this team is likely to go no better than 7-5 or 6-6, and will likely either end up in Nashville or Shreveport, and if they meltdown like many of their fans now are afraid, they will crash and burn to their second losing season in three years.
Moreover, the Vols suffered from a lot of stupid coaching decisions. I'm not trying to brag on our (four) million dollar man, but it was plain to see the he out-coached the Fat One. For example:
- The onside kick to open the game. According to the UT people, they had a player on the kick-off unit that was prematurely going down field before the ball was kicked, and had failed to fix it. Saban and co. apparently saw it on the film, and they kicked the onside right to the area where he should have been. We recover, and net three points.
- We obviously come looking to stop the pass, and let the run go. Foster, as a result, averaged seven yards per carry, but the Fat One got him only 13 carries. They could have consistently moved the ball with the run, but chose to go with the pass even when it was obvious it was stalling themselves out.
- We confused the hell out of the Tennessee passing game with multiple looks. One play in particular, we showed the safety blitz from the other side, got Tennessee to check into a pass play to that other side, dropped that safety into coverage, and then brought the other safety on a blitz from the other side. Long story short, we got a ton of pressure and forced a throw into coverage. Punting time.
- The Vols opted against going for it on two fourth and short situations, even though it was pretty obvious that they couldn't stop our offense.
- Even though it was extremely obvious to everyone in the world that you can't cover D.J. Hall with one defender alone, the Vols attempted to do it time and time again. The end result was that Hall was open all day, and had arguably the best performance ever for an Alabama wide receiver.
Putting it all together, you get the idea that though we played a great game, we also did so against a team that is probably, in a best-case scenario, headed for the Music City Bowl. That's not to say that we didn't have our best performance of this year, and that's not to say that we should not feel great about the win. The truth is that we did play much better than we have all year and that we should feel great about the throttling of the Vols.
But with that said, we should all be realistic about the situation that we are in. We are currently 6-2, and we should likely be able to get to 8-4. We may do better than that, of course, but let's not kid ourselves about how difficult it is going to be. LSU has more talent than this Tennessee team, and Auburn has a comparable talent level. Of course, though, those teams also have much, much better coaching than the Vols do, and all in all it's going to be very tough to pull out the win against those two. If we expect to win, we're going to have to play as well as we did against Tennessee, and possibly a bit better. Make no mistake about it: The LSU and Auburn games will be the toughest, most physical games we have all year, and they will come against the two best teams we will face all year.
All of this shouldn't discourage anyone, mind you, but it should make clear the reality of the situation. We are definitely an improving team, and it seems like we should be able to get 8-4 even if we lose to LSU and Auburn. Moreover, it's plain to see that Saban is as good of a coach, if not better, than we thought we were getting. And we may pull off upsets against the big two remaining teams, but we're going to have to play great football to do so.
At this point, we just need to rest up, relax, and continue to improve as a football team over the course of the next eleven days as a football team. After the Arkansas win, I think perhaps we all felt that we had the world on a string, and obviously we found out the hard way that was not true. The players and coaches need to avoid the same line of thought after the win over Tennessee and realize that we still have to improve, and that we still have work to do.
Fortunately, considering how impressive the coaching staff has been to date, I doubt we have to worry too much about that happening.