By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – October 20, 2018)
If you talked yourself into Tennessee having a chance to stun Alabama on Saturday, I’m both happy and sad for you. It wasn’t a fun afternoon for Vols fans, but I love that you had hope enough in the current team following the Auburn loss to dream. The truth was that opportunity didn’t exist from kickoff, and it really never did at any point. This was not going to be close. Alabama is in the conversation this year as the greatest team in the history of college football. The offense is unquestionably on another level.
Still, Tennessee fought hard and didn’t quit. There’s not much to say of a deep variety today, but here are the Big 6 Takeaways from the 58-21 Vols loss to the Crimson Tide on Saturday at Neyland.
THE GOAL WAS TO STAY HEALTHY, PARTICULARLY THE QB
That might not have been the team’s goal, but it was mine as an observer. You weren’t beating this team. No one is going to beat this football team. The key had to be to work on some things, to make some progress, to avoid getting embarrassed, leading to a little bit of momentum towards a much more winnable game against Will Muschamp and South Carolina next week.
For that to happen, Tennessee had to get through this game without the big injury, which has already revealed itself to have been a problem thus far in 2018. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. We don’t know the extent of quarterback Jarrett Guarantano’s injury, but he was absolutely drilled by Mack Wilson on a play where both he and his receiver, Josh Palmer, had to exit the field immediately after the completion.
The fear for JG is a collarbone, which COULD end his season. This is why Jeremy Pruitt got Keller Chryst as many reps as he did earlier in the season. When we were all wondering why, the coaching staff had an answer internally, which was they knew with the Vols offensive line, chances were good #2 was going to get hurt at some point and Chryst would be needed.
CHRYST PLAYED WELL
The W/L was already decided about two minutes into the game, but for his part, Keller Chryst played solid football in Guarantano’s stead. After Jarrett was beaten around and finally knocked out of the contest, the Stanford transfer threw a pair of touchdowns and was 9/15 for 164 yards. If JG is out for an extended length of time with a collarbone injury, at least you realize today you’re not dead if you’re a Tennessee fan or a player on that team.
David Shaw said after Chryst departed that he loved him and thought he was a heck of a football player and could win a lot of games for any school he attended. He threw some really nice balls out there against Alabama, stood tall in the pocket, and found a way to complete explosive play style of chunk passes down the field. This is encouraging stuff, because my hunch is he’s going to be the guy on the field in Columbia next week.
He showed poise and touch, which we expected before we watched hm play inconsistently in earlier 2018 season action. There are things to build on here. Whether he’s asked to start or whether he has to enter a game due to another Guarantano injury, he is a FAR better backup than many college programs could ever hope to have, and its arguable he’s better than some SEC starting QBs right now.
PRUITT REMAINS AGGRESSIVE
That’s the identity of this football team. What we’re not likely to see very often is a pensive, conservative approach to football from the Tennessee sideline. Pruitt immediately chose, rightly, to try the onside kick after the first Vols touchdown. It almost worked, as Jeremy Banks touched the ball too soon and then fumbled it, but it was dead prior to that point anyway.
That said, you like seeing this if you’re a Tennessee fan. This is the third onside we’ve seen from Pruitt thus far this season, which feels so anti-Butch Jones in every respect. Tennessee tried some stuff today, with some working better than others, but in a “you’ve got nothing to lose” scenario, you want to see a team just let it all hang loose and go for broke.
Again, nobody in their right mind gave Tennessee a shot today, because Alabama is so far superior to everyone else in the country. Jeremy Pruitt knew what this game was probably going to look like, but he fought hard on the sidelines…and…
TENNESSEE DID NOT QUIT
We spoke to Albert Haynesworth prior to the game on the Tennessee Tailgate Show and the former Vols legend said one of the things he’s most pleased by this season is how the Vols fight, whether the game appears to be over or whether the result is in doubt. Win or lose, you cannot quit. There was almost a lackadaisical feel late in the Florida game, but the effort against Georgia may well have been the turning point for this Volunteers club.
After the Florida loss, Tennessee chose not to pack it in and admit their shortcomings. They fought Georgia hard until the bitter end, then they went to Auburn and upset the Tigers. The second half at Jordan Hare is where they earned their stripes and proved what they could be when they’re playing clean, inspired football. It wouldn’t be enough to beat Alabama, but folks, this EASILY could have been a humiliating shut out, and it wasn’t.
Credit is due to Tennessee for finding a way to score a trio of touchdowns, for Chryst, Chandler, and others playing every down as if they cared just as much as when the score was 0-0, and for pushing themselves. It sounds like I’m describing a moral victory. I don’t buy into that philosophy. I’m just saying this could have been much worse. That’s how good Alabama is. You can build on EFFORT. Tennessee tried. They fought. That should count for something if you’re looking for positives.
Now healthy, Jauan Jennings is thankfully starting to emerge again as a prime target and a source of enthusiasm for his team. He followed up his five catch, 71 yard day against Auburn with six grabs on Saturday and broke the century mark for the first time this year. When he is involved early, Tennessee is better off. Today, Alabama had the game in hand quickly, but I’ve still yet to watch a Vol that wants to win more than Jennings.
After being almost an afterthought for Tyson Helton and the offense in the early going this year, he had a decent night against Florida, disappeared the following week, and has now posted back to back performances more worthy of what we’ve come to expect from him.
I really like the trio of Jennings-Callaway-Palmer, and if you can get Wood-Anderson healthy and start to use him more, the receiving corps remains filled with ability and talent. Ty Chandler in the screen game, finding ways to incorporate him in other ways outside the backfield remains something we need to see more of, but the offense is starting to open up a bit after a lethargic opening month.
SERIOUSLY, ALABAMA IS JUST THAT GOOD
Don’t hang your heads. This one was over before it started. Tua Tagovailoa is a truly incredible football player. His chemistry with Jeudy, particularly with that kid’s speed, is a sight to behold. Alabama has never had this kind of offense before and has won national championships without it. This is a luxury afforded to Nick Saban that he didn’t even need, but he’ll gladly take.
Even with other talented teams out there and a few tough ones left, this might be the easiest title Saban has ever won. The passing game is just unreal. Tua now has 25 touchdowns this season and has yet to throw an interception. He’s also yet to play in the fourth quarter, because not one game has been remotely close. The Bama defense isn’t quite as good as some others we’ve seen this decade in Tuscaloosa, but for once, they absolutely can afford to just be “great” and not “all-time exquisite.”
I said before the season no one would beat Alabama and the rest of the country was just playing for second. I firmly believe that. What’s going to happen over the next few weeks is a lot of people trying to talk themselves into LSU upsetting the Tide following the bye week. You’re going to hear it from a lot of people.
But you will not hear it from me. Alabama is head and shoulders better than everybody else. It’s just that simple. Tennessee was the latest victim. There’s no shame in having to tip your cap to the better man.
THE LAST WORD
One Takeaway above was Tennessee didn’t quit. The caveat, however, is that they continued to find difficulties in how to start. Nigel Warrior spoke after the game about guys not coming to play. I didn’t see a lack of effort, possibly execution yes, but this team struggles to get its footing early. You can’t hope to survive against good teams with poor starts.
Pruitt also pointed to good practices not meaning much once you get to Saturdays and don’t play like it. They saw a lack of effort. I saw miscues, but hand Alabama the credit for just blitzkrieging these boys on offense and then coming after them defensively. I don’t go with the “didn’t show up” mentality, because almost all of this was the Tide being that much better than you were.
If Guarantano is hurt badly, ugh. That said, Keller Chryst gave Vols fans reasons for hope even if that’s the diagnosis. The team played hard against insurmountable competition and lost by 37 points in the process. I couldn’t put the run game as a takeaway today negatively for Tennessee as I have in other games, because nobody can run against Nick Saban’s defense. It’s a problem, but today it doesn’t stand out as it might otherwise.
Alabama and Tua are several notches above everybody else. Next week is South Carolina in a very hostile, loud, raucous environment down in Columbia. That’s a game Vols fans should think they can win, but it will not be an easy day. We’ll wait to hear officially what’s going on with the Vols starting QB and we’ll see how some of the other dinged up Tennessee players fare this week in the run-up to that game.
This will definitely be a winnable game, but it’s one where Tennessee will have to play well and keep the ledger clean of turnovers and dumb penalties. Those thing happened early against Alabama and helped doom the Vols quickly. Nine penalties for 59 yards isn’t acceptable.
Bama will crush you when you do it.
South Carolina will merely beat you, but an L is an L.
Discipline and execution will be the orders of the day in practice this week.