TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The toughest part of Tennessee’s football schedule appears to be over, and boy, did it leave a mark.
The Vols (3-4, 0-4 SEC) endured a 45-7 defeat at the hands of No. 1-ranked Alabama (8-0 5-0 SEC) on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
By the time Saturday’s game against the Tide had ended, Tennessee was down 12 starters from its projected lineup from mid-August.
Senior Jashon Robertson became the third of five Vols’ starting offensive linemen sidelined by injury this season. Senior cornerback Justin Martin was a game-time scratch.
The Vols were overmatched by the country’s deepest and most talented team in Bryant-Denny Stadium. And the grades reflect it.
Jarrett Guarantano was 9 of 16 passing for 44 yards and was sacked 4 times. He was under pressure from start to finish, but at least Guarantano showed toughness and resiliency bouncing back from several big hits.
Running backs (C)
The nation’s No. 1 run defense made John Kelly look average. He had 12 carries for 63 yards and 2 catches for 5 yards. Freshman Ty Chandler had 4catches for 2 yards, while Tim Jordan carried twice for 7 yards. Jordan added a catch for 8 yards.
Everyone struggled to beat press coverage. Tight end Ethan Wolf had the longest reception of the game for Tennessee, a 12-yarder in the first quarter. Marquez Callaway had 3 catches for 14 yards and Brandon Johnson had 1 catch for 6 yards.
Offensive line (C-minus)
Considering this was the fifth different combination in seven games, it was not as bad as it could have been. The offensive line did an adequate job against Alabama’s four-man rush, but got burned on a few blitzes. A costly motion penalty by Trey Smith at 1-yard line cost the Vols a scoring opportunity.
Defensive line (D)
Jonathan Kongbo had two of the costliest penalties of the season, his first hands-to-the-face penalty negating a turnover and the second eliminating what would have been a third-and-11 scenario. Both penalties led to touchdowns. End Kyle Phillips led the front with 6 tackles.
Sophomore Daniel Bituli ontinues to have some alignment issues, but his 97-yard interception return for a touchdown was the Vols’ highlight of the day. Quart’e Sapp had 11 tackles and freshman Will Ignont made 2 tackles in his brief time on the field.
The Tennessee secondary held Alabama’s passing game in check until late in the game, when fatigue took its toll. Freshman Shawn Shamburger led team with 12 tackles and had a sack, and Nigel Warrior had 7 stops and a sack. Rashaan Gaulden had a pass breakup in the end zone and a fumble recovery.
Special teams (B)
Punter Trevor Daniel averaged 45.8 yards on 9 punts with one dropped in at the Alabama 2-yard line. D.J. Henderson forced a fumble on a punt return. Ja’Quain Blakely was called for a hold on a kick return. Ty Chandler had 4 kick returns for 94 yards, including a 32-yard return.
Tennessee’s defensive plan was excellent, as it limited Alabama to 7 points through the first 25 minutes before players began to wear down. The Tide needed four downs to score its first two TDs, both on 1-yard plunges. The Vols offense had a conservative plan in place, the concept being to avoid turnovers and keep things simplified for a redshirt freshman quarterback making his second career start.
Alabama’s talent and depth was obvious, just as it has been in the Tide’s other wins this season. Tennessee’s players matched Alabama’s physicality and effort, but not the Tide’s offensive execution. It was an unsatisfying game for the Vols, but it fell short of the embarrassment other league teams have suffered against Alabama this season.
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