Walsh’s Last Word: 10 things you might not have noticed from Tennessee at No. 1 Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If the University of Alabama football team were to start giving out an effort award for each game, Matt Womack would receive it this week.

When quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made a freshman mistake and threw a pass right at the Tennessee interior linebacker who was shadowing the play and hadn’t even moved, Womack went after him.

The sophomore right tackle is listed as 6-foot-7 and 324 pounds, and Alabama was in full control of the game, leading 28-0. Yet Womack still chased after Daniel Bituli all the way downfield as if  he had insulted his mother.

Just like that, Womack became a Crimson Tide fan favorite. He played a good game as well.

Here’s a final look at Alabama’s 45-7 rout of Tennessee, its 72nd consecutive win against an unranked opponent.

Play of the game: Sophomore linebacker Mack Wilson’s interception on fourth-and-goal at the 5-yard line kept Tennessee’s offense from scoring a single point. Credited with pressuring the quarterback on the play were linebackers Rashaan Evans and Anfernee Jennings, who both came back from significant injuries suffered in the season opener.

Player of the game: The entire defense. It’s difficult to single out anyone when so many players made key contributions, including junior defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne, junior defensive end Isaiah Buggs, Evans and senior cornerback Levi Wallace. Tennessee’s longest reception was only 12 yards, and the only two significant running plays were both draws.

Statistic of the game: At one point late in the third quarter, Alabama’s offense had run nearly as many plays (70) as Tennessee had in total yards (74). The Crimson Tide would have finished with 500 more total yards (604-108) but lost 4 yards when twice taking a knee to run out the clock. Also, Tennessee had more punts (9) than first downs (7).

10 things you might not have noticed

No. 1 Alabama won 45-7 for its 11th consecutive victory in the Third Saturday in October rivalry. While considering the following, keep in mind that the Crimson Tide have been adding wrinkles that upcoming opponents must prepare for:

1. The 411 on Jalen Hurts’ performance: The sophomore quarterback was on the field for six possessions and the offense scored touchdowns on four. The three that stood out were Alabama’s initial possession and the drives before and after halftime. During those he was 9-for-10 passing as the Crimson Tide went 63, 77 and 76 yards. However, on his other three possessions the offense was out of sync, like when he threw to the wrong shoulder of junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley on first down at his own 2, and behind him on a second quarter screen. Ridley looked back with his arms open as if to say, “Come on.” Overall, Hurts was 13 for 21 for 198 yards, with 1 touchdown and no interceptions. Among his other incompletions were the non-pass interference call in the end zone (to senior wide receiver Cam Sims), 1 knockdown and 2 hurries.

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Alabama’s passing game is beginning to look more downfield. (Getty Images)

Having mentioned all that, there were four important developments of note:

  • Hurts appeared hesitant when the offense struggled. Things clicked better when it went up-tempo.
  • He was 3-for-4 passing for 69 yards on third downs.
  • Coaches didn’t appear to call any designed runs (they did for Tagovailoa, though), as if challenging him to stay in the pocket.
  • Hurts threw deeper passes. His last 8 attempts were all 10-plus yards downfield and he completed 6 for 119 yards, including the 14-yard touchdown to sophomore tight end Irv Smith Jr. He had 2 other downfield attempts earlier, the play in which Sims’ head bounced off the ground and the 19-yard completion to freshman Jerry Jeudy on third-and-10.

2. Running back touches: Another thing to keep an eye on in November will be if the coaches will maintain the running back rotation. Back from a foot injury, sophomore Josh Jacobs has been more in the mix and made 4 receptions the last two weeks, while junior Bo Scarbrough has only 1. The coaches have been using more two running back formations of late, and mixing in freshmen Najee Harris and Brian Robinson.

Running back touches (rushes and catches)

Florida State 10 16 3
Fresno State 7 8 13
Colorado State 13 15 1 4
Vanderbilt 13 12 4 10
Ole Miss 7 6 4 7
Texas A&M 14 18 0 0
Arkansas 10 8 11 5
Tennessee 13 9 10 9

3. The Tusk Formation: Somehow calling Alabama’s short-yardage package the jumbo personnel group doesn’t do it justice. On both of Scarbrough’s 1-yard touchdown plunges on fourth down — Damien Harris was going to get a shot at it as well, but Alabama was called for a false start — the coaches inserted defensive linemen Payne and redshirt freshman Quinnen Williams into the backfield. Plus, freshman Jedrick Willis Jr. lined up at right tackle with Womack at tight end on the left side. The Crimson Tide didn’t even bother to have a wide receiver on the field. Going by Alabama’s roster the 11 players combined to weigh 3,175 pounds.

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Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough goes over Tennessee’s defense for a touchdown. (Courtesy/Alabama Athletics)

4. Who are you? Alabama had yet another true freshman make his debut as linebacker VanDarius Cowan was on the field for Tennessee’s final possession. He’s the 17 th true freshman from the signing Class of 2017 to play this season, leaving linebacker Markail Benton, offensive lineman Hunter Brannon, kicker Joseph Bulovas, defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis, offensive lineman Kendall Randolph, wide receiver Tyrell Shavers and wide receiver Chadarius Townsend as the only redshirt possibilities. Overall, the Crimson Tide have used 74 different players this season.

5. Mistakes on the rise: One thing that’s certain to get Nick Saban’s attention during the bye week is a spike in mistakes — and it goes beyond fielding punts. If you combine fumbles lost, interceptions, penalties and sacks allowed, Alabama went from having seven or fewer in each of its first five games to double digits in each of the last three. The Crimson Tide have also had a negative turnover ratio during the last two games.

6. Penalties tracker: Alabama is finally out of the college football cellar in the statistical category of  opponents’ penalties. With Tennessee flagged nine times the Crimson Tide’s opponents are averaging 4.5 penalties for 31.4 yards per game. They rank No. 117 and 128 out of 130 teams, respectively. Those same eight opponents are averaging a combined 6.1 penalties and 50.0 yards per game. Last season, Alabama’s opponents saw the fewest flags in college football.

7. We’re going streaking: Alabama has won 22 consecutive games against SEC opponents, the postseason included, dating back to the Ole Miss loss in 2015. That’s as many SEC wins as all but three active coaches have notched at their current schools:

 Dan Mullen, Mississippi State 31-37 (.456)
 Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M 24-20 (.545)
Gus Malzahn, Auburn 23-15 (.605)
 Jim McElwain, Florida 16-7 (.696)
 Butch Jones, Tennessee 14-22 (.389)
 Bret Bielema, Arkansas 10-26 (.278)
 Mark Stoops, Kentucky 10-26 (.278)
 Kirby Smart, Georgia 8-4 (.667)
 Ed Orgeron, LSU 7-3 (.700); 10-24 overall (.294)
 Will Muschamp, South Carolina 6-7 (.462); 23-22 overall (.511)
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt 5-23 (.179)
 Barry Odom, Missouri 2-10 (.200)
Matt Luke, Ole Miss 1-3 (.333)

Overall, Saban is 106-25 (.809) against SEC opponents — 76-13 at Alabama (.853) and 30-12 at LSU (.714).

8. First-quarter tracker: Alabama’s average of 13.4 points scored in the first quarter leads the nation, while the 1.1 points allowed are second to Penn State, which has yet to allow a point. Alabama hasn’t given up a touchdown, outscoring opponents 107-9. What makes the Crimson Tide’s quick starts especially impressive are that they’re establishing the run from the get-go, averaging 8.75 yards per attempt in the first quarter (compared to 6.4 overall). Alabama has outgained opponents 1,097 yards to 420, with a 47-18 edge in first downs. Incidentally, it’s also the only FBS team to have scored in every quarter played this season, and the average scoring margin of 33.2 points tops all teams, just ahead of Ohio State (31.9), Penn State (30.4), UCF (29.8), Notre Dame (24.9) and Georgia (24.5).

9. Tight end receptions: Smith and junior Hale Hentges combined to have 5 catches for 94 yards, and Smith scored his first career touchdown. It’s the most receptions for the position group since last year’s Iron Bowl, but the opponent to put in the back of your mind is Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide tight ends had 9 catches for 96 yards against the Bulldogs in 2016. Coming into the Tennessee game, Alabama’s tight ends had combined to make 10 catches for 83 yards.

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Tight end Irv Smith Jr. is one of the new wrinkles in Alabama’s offense. Photo by Alabama Athletics.

10. Three-and-outs: Alabama’s defense has forced at least six three-and-outs in three of its last four games. With six three-and-outs against Tennessee, the defense has tallied 47 for the season out of 99 opposition possessions, with the 47.5 percent barely trailing national frontrunner Michigan.

The post Walsh’s Last Word: 10 things you might not have noticed from Tennessee at No. 1 Alabama appeared first on SEC Country.

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