KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee suffered one of the worst losses in the history of its rivalry with Alabama on Saturday afternoon, as the No. 9-ranked Vols dropped a 49-10 decision to the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee (5-2, 2-2 SEC) was missing several key players — both starting offensive and defensive tackles, Brett Kendrick, Chance Hall, Kendal Vickers and Kahlil McKenzie were knocked out of the game — but coach Butch Jones wouldn’t use that as an excuse for the loss.
“Our kids are fighting, scratching and clawing,” Jones said. “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.
“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.”
The Vols played hard for four quarters against the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0), but because of the injuries, they simply didn’t have the personnel to match up with the nation’s best team.
Josh Dobbs was missing four starting offensive linemen by halftime of Saturday’s game, and the nation’s top defensive front smothered him throughout. Dobbs was 16 of 27 passing for 92 yards, and his interception was returned for a TD. He had minus-31 yards rushing on 7 carries, including 3 sacks.
Running Backs: D
No one fumbled the football, so there was a positive. Jalen Hurd had the Vols’ longest run of the game, 12 yards, and led UT with 28 yards on 13 carries. Alvin Kamara was held to 21 yards on 8 carries, and had 2 catches for 7 yards. John Kelly had 3 carries for an inconsequential 8 yards.
Josh Malone had 5 catches for 61 yards, and Jauan Jennings had 3 for 20 yards. Tyler Byrd had 1 catch for 1 yard. Tight end Jason Croom had a drop, but tight end Ethan Wolf had 2 catches for 30 yards.
Offensive Line: D
It was the fifth different O-line combination this season, and things grew even more grim when Kendrick and Hall left the game with apparent injuries. That left Jack Jones as the only player in the lineup who started the Texas A&M game. This group was overwhelmed, like one might expect second-teamers to be against Alabama.
Defensive Line: D+
The Vols were forced to use Quay Picou and Kyle Phillips at defensive tackle — two players who normally don’t take reps there — because starters McKenzie and Vickers were both injured in the game. Derek Barnett represents the “plus.”
Overwhelmed, outrun and not physical enough. The Vols had some alignment issues, as Alabama created some problems with its formations. Elliott Berry had 9 tackles in his first career start. The UT linebackers didn’t have the speed to get to the perimeter, however.
Alabama’s longest pass play was 31 yards, and much of the Tide’s pass yardage came on shovel passes. Freshman Baylen Buchanan played well in his first start, and safeties Todd Kelly Jr. and Micah Abernathy were solid in run support much of the day.
Special Teams: C
Tennessee gave up a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown, and that’s a huge red mark. That said, the Vols had good field position because of a strong return game. Alvin Kamara had 2 punt returns for 60 yards, and Evan Berry had 3 kick returns for 91 yards. Tyler Byrd had his first kick return for 25 yards. Trevor Daniel averaged 48.3 per punt, and Aaron Medley made a 37-yard field goal.
Many will want to see an “F” here, but it’s not going to happen — not with the most injury-depleted top 10 team I’ve ever seen. Four offensive line starters out, top three defensive tackles out, four of the top five linebackers out, two of top three cornerbacks out. So the “I” is for incomplete — because it’s really about how the coaches get the Vols ready for South Carolina. The game plan against Alabama was fine, but the personnel necessary to execute it wasn’t available.