Reality check: Injuries, historic loss have Tennessee searching to close out season
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Reality check.
That’s what the Alabama Crimson Tide gave Tennessee in a 49-10 dominant win inside Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
The Volunteers offense did not give Team 120 much to work with, once again, early in the game. This time, there was no coming back.
The Vols fell behind 14-0 late in the first quarter, and injuries on top of a vanilla offensive scheme were the perfect mix in creating the biggest blowout in the Tide’s decade of dominance over Tennessee — and one of the biggest in series history.
The last time Alabama beat Tennessee by more than 39 points? It was a 51-0 drubbing … in 1906.
The vanilla offensive scheme was complimented by injuries on both sides of the ball. Tennessee had zero chance without Alabama breaking down and making mistakes, and that did not happen.
Starters Cameron Sutton, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Malik Foreman, Cortez McDowell, Jashon Robertson and Dylan Weisman did not play Saturday. Also, Brett Kendrick, Micah Abernathy and Kahlil McKenzie left the game and did not return.
Alabama has scored 48 or more points against all four of the ranked teams it has faced in 2016. There was no chance the Volunteers’ reserves were going to keep this competitive.
But injuries are not an excuse with Butch Jones.
He addressed that immediately following the loss.
“I’ve never been through a season like this where the injuries just continue to mount up, but that’s the game of football and that’s recruiting and that’s development,” Jones said. “That’s having a solid program, and that’s everyone that’s awaiting their time and when their opportunity comes to play you make the most of it.”
Jones is right. Depth and overcoming injuries are remedied in recruiting, and that has been Nick Saban’s calling card during the dynasty run he has created at Alabama. It showed against Tennessee and the Crimson Tide took advantage of the Vols’ injury-plagued team.
“They didn’t have a lot of depth,” Alabama tight end O.J. Howard said after the game. “That’s why we went fast. We saw that they didn’t have a lot of depth on defense, and we kept a fast tempo for the whole game, and they got tired.”
On the other side of the ball, the talented Alabama defensive line made it look easy going against the Vols’ depleted offensive line making it hard to get anything going offensively.
“(Freshman) Marcus Tatum has worked exceptionally hard, but we had no choice but to play him,” Jones said. “We are down numbers and are depleted on the offensive line. When you look at being down Brett Kendrick, Jashon Robertson, and Dylan Wiesman, the one thing you can’t replace is their experience. I thought our younger guys battled and did some good things.”
Tennessee’s health is a long-term concern. The Vols remain in contention to get to Atlanta, and the schedule certainly shifts in their favor after a bye week.
“I’m very concerned, but that is football,” Jones said. “When you usually have a run of injuries, it only affects one or two position groups. It’s affected every position group. That’s why this bye week is very important. We have to get our health back. There has to be a sense of urgency for our youngsters to get better and help us on the final stretch after the bye week.”
The Vols receive their bye week at the perfect time before heading to South Carolina on Oct. 29.
“We have to stay together,” quarterback Josh Dobbs told reporters after the Alabama loss. “We can’t let this game divide us, but we’ve got a lot of work to do; we’ve got to get back at it Monday and keep it going.”
Team leader and the anchor of the defense, Derek Barnett, echoed Dobbs’ words.
“Season one is over and season two starts after this bye week,” he told reporters. “(We have to) keep it rolling; we can’t let one game define the whole season.
“We have some guys down so this is definitely a good time for a bye week, but that’s no excuse. It’s the next man up. The backup guys need to come in ready to play — and we’ve got guys doing that — but we need more of it.”