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Initial Impressions: Alabama vs Tennessee 2016

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3,647 days since Tennessee last beat Alabama

NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

These are the best kinds of games— where Alabama pounds an opponent into submission and total surrender by the start of the 4th quarter. The running game clicked in a fashion that would have made the Jim McElwain-led Tide offense from 8 years ago jealous, and the already stellar defense put together what was easily it’s most impressive outing of the season

The game opened with Tennessee hitting three straight plays of at least 7 yards, and many Tide fans were already having flashbacks to 2015 when the team struggled to get the Volunteer offense off of the field. Then, Tim Williams took matters into his own hands and picked up another sack to stuff his already impressive stat sheet.

Bo Scarbrough started the game at running back for the Tide and got a couple of carries, but after the Tide was forced to punt the ball on the first drive, he disappeared inexplicably again until late in the game. If football doesn’t work out for Bo, then a career as a magician might be a solid fall back option.

Tim Williams and Jonathan Allen once again coerced the Tennessee offense to go back to the direction from which they came from, and a penalty on the resulting punt left the Tide offense with 91 long yards to the opposing endzone. A couple of short passes to ArDarius Stewart got the first first down, and then a double dose of Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs got the Tide half of a hundred rushing yards on four straight plays. In what looked to be a signature Lane Kiffin jet sweep, Calvin Ridley suddenly broke the expected run around right end and gently tossed the ball back to a charging ArDarius Stewart who scampered back around to the left, his lead blocker none other than a fearless Jalen Hurts. Though he didn’t have the impact against the Vols that he did last year with Bowling Green, Gehrig Dieter made his presence felt here with a nasty pancake block to spring Stewart down the field for a 29 yard touchdown.

The teams traded back-to-back three-and-outs (Tennesse by way of negative yardage and Alabama by way of three incomplete passes) before Tennessee got the ball back. Apparently using Texas in 2009 as a role model, the Vols attempted a screen pass on third down, but instead of a running back, Josh Dobbs handed the ball to Tide safety Ronnie Harrison, who waltzed 58 yards for an easy touchdown, and he didn’t drop the ball. It was the Tide’s 10th non-offensive touchdown this season, with at least one in every game thus far.

In response, the two offenses continued to be totally broken, trading three more quick punts. Then Cam Robinson happened. He picked up his weekly false start on third down, and was then absolutely embarrassed by Derek Barnett, getting Hurts absolutely crushed from the blindside, and the Volunteers recovered the fumble on the Alabama 11 yard line. Two plays later, Alabama defect Alvin Kamara scampered for the only Tennessee touchdown of the night.

Though his arm was very off all night, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts equalized that deficiency by answering Tennessee’s first score with a 45-yard QB keeper for a score of his own. The true freshman accelerated with the silky-smooth grace of Ferrari on an open road, leaving the defense in the dust.

Yet again, the Alabama defense forced Tennessee to another quick punt, with Josh Dobbs so affected by the relentless pass rush that he was content to dump the ball off to covered running backs in third and long situations.

After Jalen Hurts, Josh Jacobs, and Damien Harris ran down the throat of the Tennessee defense for another 66 yards, Hurts dropped back to pass on a playaction roll out to the left. The running back was not where he expected, and Hurts stumbled backwards, barely catching his balance before being sacked for a loss. He sprinted left to buy himself enough time to throw the ball away, but the defender chasing him managed to hit ball as soon as soon as it left his hand. It rocketed up into the air like a balloon just free from a child’s grasp, and Derek Barnett boxed Hurts out for the rebound/interception (looks like Jalen Hurts probably won’t be crossing over to play for Coach Avery Johnson any time soon).

At this point, Neyland Stadium was going wild with a fervorous excitement as many fans were feeling the game shift towards what might be yet another Tennessee rally. A quick three and out ended that, and Alabama took over with 62 seconds left in the half with 84 yards to go. Lane Kiffin at first seemed to be content with running out clock, but instead his running plays resulted in steady succession of chunk yardage, and one quick play-action pass to Calvin Ridley on the sidelines got the Tide into field goal range. Rather than throwing one pass to the endzone, Kiffin ran a QB boot to the right, and Hurts managed to get the ground with one second left on the clock. Unfortunately, Adam Griffith hooked the resulting field goal to the right, and Alabama entered the half with a tenuous 21-7 lead, despite a herculean effort from the defense.

The two teams traded two punts to open the half, and then the floodgates opened. A 23-yard pass to Stewart and another 21-yard QB run on a busted play left Alabama on the two yard line. Like so many times this season, Hurts took a QB run around the right side for yet another rushing touchdown.

For the first time in the game, Tennessee put together a decent 10-play drive that resulted in a field goal, but this last score was too late for the Vols. Alabama responded with another 75-yard drive and touchdown, beginning with Hurts’s best throw of the last few games on a 31-yard corner strike to Calvin Ridley, and ended with yet ANOTHER Hurts stroll around right end for his third rushing touchdown of the game.

Three plays later, Eddie Jackson returned a punt for a touchdown, bringing the count up to 11 non-offensive touchdowns on the season.

After yet another three-and-out from the Tennessee offense, Bo Scarbrough made a reappearance into the game. On his first carry, he slipped through a hole that was much smaller than his hulking body, nimbly sidestepped a linebacker, then raced three defensive backs down the sidelines for an 85 yard touchdown.

With 11 minutes left in the game, Alabama went ahead and subbed in the entire second team, and then ran out the clock with an 8 minute drive that made every old fan proud, ending with a final score of 49-10.

Thoughts

  • Who needs a passing game? Jalen Hurts had what was probably his worst outing as a passer so far, with bouts of inaccuracy and a few bad decisions. Yet to pick up the slack, Alabama picked up 438 yards at a clip of 8.9 yards per carry. Jalen Hurts and Bo Scarbrough both broke 100 yards on the day, and Damien Harris was just short with 94. Harris was hit or miss with his runs, sometimes running into his own players in the backfield, but other times ripping of 15 yards chunks. Scarbrough looked good on all of his few carries, especially his 85 yarder.
  • ArDarius Stewart, Calvin Ridley, and O.J. Howard all had some nice catches, but all in all, Hurts really struggled with his accuracy tonight. He made up for it with his running, but that is something he HAS to fix going forward, unless Alabama is ready to adopt a wishbone/triple option offense.
  • The pass rush continues to absolutely dominate. Tim Williams is unblockable more often than not while Ryan Anderson and Jonathan Allen put consistent pressure on the quarterback. On top of that, nose tackle Da’Ron Payne keeps improving his pass rush skills from the interior every single game. Add in well-timed blitzes from Reuben Foster and Shaun Hamilton, and Josh Dobbs spent most of the game either on the ground or throwing a quick dump off in fear.
  • Though they weren’t really tested that much, the secondary had a much better game after a rough outing against Arkansas last week. Minkah Fitzpatrick stumbled on a deep lob from the Tennessee back up QB late in the game, but aside from that, none of the starting 3 corners gave up any plays longer than about 15 yards. Ronnie Harrison only had one bust from his safety spot, and made quite a few impressive tackles from sideline to sideline and a pick six. Anthony Averrett also made a few really impressive open field tackles.
  • J.K Scott is an otherworldly punter.
  • Nick Saban seemed fairly content about the team playing a complete game for all four quarters for once. The entire defense was clicking on all cylinders, the run game was unstoppable, and the special teams put together some impressive returns. Though Jalen Hurts was off with his accuracy, you didn’t see many of the mental mistakes that would drive Saban crazy. The biggest team issue I saw was the kick/punt coverage team, as Tennessee broke three long returns throughout the game.
  • Trevon Diggs, though he hasn’t been targeted often, got a lot of playing time. It seems like he’s already a trusted blocker in the offense, and I expect to see his role continue to expand.
  • We have a bevy of talented running backs. Damien Harris has vision and shiftiness, Josh Jacobs has unnatural acceleration, and Bo Scarbrough might be the most talented. Even with his size, he just might have the most pure speed of the lot.
  • Da’Ron Payne and Shaun Hamilton have really had a revelation this year. The two have been playing out of their minds the last few games. Hamilton is playing much faster than he has the last two years, and his kept his hard-hitting in the process. At the same time, Payne sometimes outshines even Jonathan Allen along the line. He’s much faster than a 315-pound man should be, and has a nice repertoire of pass rush moves in his pocket.
  • The offensive line, outside of a couple drives in the second quarter where they seemed lost trying to pick up blitzes, had a great game. They opened hole after hole in the run game and, for the most part, gave Hurts enough time to work in the pocket. I’m starting to wonder if Lester Cotton should keep the starting spot at right guard even after Alphonse Taylor recovers from his injury.
  • Every year, I pick one freshman from each recruiting class that I dub as my favorite. Last year, it was Daylon Charlot, who ended up transferring out, breaking my heart in the process. This year, I picked DE/LB Terell Hall. The 6’6” monster got a decent amount of playing time in mop up duty, and even a few snaps in real game time too. He didn’t register any stats, but he kept consistent pressure on the opposing QB while he was in the game.

The game was such a decisive win that it’s easy to forget that Tennessee was ranked 9th in the nation. It’s Alabama’s third win over a top-10 team this season. Next week brings the fourth in Texas A&M. Playing transitive football is never a sound strategy, but the totally anemic Tennessee offense we just witnessed rolled up nearly 700 yards against the Aggies last week, if that say’s anything about their defense.

Jalen Hurts should recover from his inexplicable bout of inaccuracy. If that gets fixed while the rest of the team continues to play at the high level are currently are, then this team will be unstoppable.

Roll Tide