A few thoughts from the early aftermath of the Tide's 41-10 thumping of Tennessee:
- If nothing else, the win over Tennessee last night was a tale of two halves. We played poorly in the first half, struggling to establish the run and struggling to protect Greg McElroy on the offensive side of the ball, while at the same time being gashed by the Tennessee running game defensively. The second half, though, was the dream scenario for those who bleed crimson, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. We dominated in the trenches like we routinely did a year ago, we hit some big plays in the vertical passing game, and the defense finished strong after some early success for the Vols in the second half.
Julio Jones officially put his name in the Alabama record book last night with his 12 catches for 221 yards, all of which came less than two weeks removed from surgery on his left hand. He dominated the Tennessee secondary, but the most encouraging aspect of his production in recent weeks is that he is generating it with, relatively speaking, so few balls thrown in his direction. Eight of the nine passes thrown to him against South Carolina were completions, and twelve of the fifteen passes thrown in his direction last night were completions as well. It's one thing to post gaudy receiving numbers when you have the football thrown in your direction an absurd amount of times and you end up with, say, 180 receiving yards while catching 11 of 23 passes thrown in your direction, but with Jones we have gotten efficiency in the passing game. We're going to need him to play at a very high level if we are to beat LSU and Auburn, so hopefully he can use the off week to his advantage.
- Biggest shock of the Tennessee game? After spending most of the first quarter in full blown dink and dunk mode, the vertical passing attack suddenly appeared. Being unsuccessful while attempting to stretch the field vertically is one thing, but in recent weeks we haven't even consistently attempted to do that, so when Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron started hitting go routes one after another, that probably has to be considered the pleasant surprise of the night. That helped open up the running game in the second half, and as a whole the Tennessee defense took on a somewhat different look after those big plays in the passing game.
- I think more than anything else a complete lack of depth proved the death knell for Tennessee last night. Give them credit for their performance in the first half, they played hard and played a relatively equal game with Alabama. In the second half, though, the Vols went into a complete tailspin for the umpteenth week in a row, and it's hard not to believe that their lack of depth is the biggest driving force behind that.
Phelon Jones played last night in place of DeQuan Menzie, who reportedly had a groin injury that worsened throughout the course of the week. The fact that Menzie finally missed time comes as no real surprise -- if anything, it's a major surprise that he was somehow able to hold up through the first seven weeks -- but Phelon probably played better last night than most expected. He played hard against the run, had solid coverage on the back end, and almost made a big interception early in the game. Clearly the staff would prefer Menzie to be able to go, hence why he has started the first seven games of the season, but given the precarious nature of his health it's relieving to see that we can rotate Phelon into the game and get some solid play.
- With Tauren Poole running for 117 yards with a gaudy 8+ yards per carry average against the Alabama defense last night, the much-ballyhooed 100 yard rusher streak finally came to an end. And though I hate to see it fall at the hands of Tennessee, nevertheless consider me somewhat pleased that it is finally over. Streak or not, for the most part we really have not consistently stopped the run all season, and with the streak over perhaps everyone, players included, will start focusing on what needs to be done to correct the problems with the run defense instead of spending all of their time focusing on some ultimately meaningless and misleading streak.
- The major disappointment of the night clearly had to be the lack of a consistent pass rush. Tennessee came into this game nearly dead last in the country in sacks allowed, and with Alabama only generating two sacks on 42 passing attempts that alone is cause for concern. Unfortunately, those concerns only grow when given context. We didn't actually generate a sack last night until the 38th passing attempt of the night, and the second sack came on the final play of the game where Tyler Bray held onto the ball for an eternity. I haven't ran the Adjusted Sack Rate numbers this season, but unless the pass rush really comes to life over the last month of the season, I imagine you can expect that 'Bama will be at the bottom of the conference in that regard.
- Given the two previous points, namely the struggles with the run defense and the lack of a consistent pass rush against one of the worst offensive lines in the country, moving forward the defense remains a bit of a concern. Clearly the performance was good enough last night -- and the defensive backfield played pretty well, in fact -- but against better offensive teams that will not be the case. I imagine the defensive coaches will not have to look very far in film review to make their fair share of complaints.
- Aside from his 42-yard run, Mark Ingram didn't quite look right for most of last night. He didn't seem as explosive as usual, and on a few carries he looked tentative. Trent Richardson had the better night of the two, and at this point I have the feeling that he may not be particularly healthy. I imagine the off week should do wonders for him.
- Trent Richardson's 62-yard touchdown run last night? Go back and count 'em... Tennessee had nine in the box to stop the run. That is what Nick Saban means when he refers to identity plays.
- Burton Scott is alive! We've seen him make a few cameos on special teams in recent weeks, but last night in mop-up duty he finally got into the game at cornerback and came up with a nice interception. Unfortunately, the following series, he lost contain on the outside in run support, took a bad angle on the tailback, and then committed an obvious facemask penalty. In a sense, it was as if he teased us with his physical ability all the while showing why he routinely sits on the bench. One way or the other, though, it was nice to see something out of him.
- Two weeks ago I wrote that we would be in survival mode against Ole Miss and Tennessee, and while the performances against those two teams often left much to desire, we did what we needed to do. We avoided any further major injuries, we picked up two victories, and we made it to the bye week. Furthermore, with upset losses suffered by Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, suddenly Alabama does not need near as much outside help to get back into the thick of national championship contention. Again, it wasn't always pretty, but in terms of the effective end result, the previous two weeks went about as well as could have reasonably been expected.
- All in all, not a perfect performance last night in Knoxville, and some legitimate complaints can be made. Nevertheless, we survived like we needed to, and there hasn't been a bad day yet that ended with Alabama beating the hell out of Tennessee with 90,000 depressed puke orange clad rednecks filing out of Neyland Stadium like they had just witnessed their own damned funerals. We haven't beaten Tennessee this badly since John F. Kennedy was president, so why complain? Bother me tomorrow, and for now just keep savoring those victory cigars.