Last Saturday night, Tennessee left Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama with a program-altering win against the then-No. 21 Tigers. The victory snapped an 11-game SEC losing streak for the Vols. The win also seemed to ignite some hope for this week’s matchup against No. 1 Alabama.
On Saturday, that hope dissolved in the first five minutes, as the Crimson Tide scored two touchdowns in 23 seconds. The Tide rolled to a 58-21 win at Neyland Stadium, its 12th straight against the Vols.
Alabama started hot on an 11-yard strike, as Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (19-for-29, 4 TDs, 306 yards) found Jerry Jeudy for the touchdown with fewer than 11 minutes remaining in the first quarter.
But Alabama’s second touchdown reflected the true story of this game.
On Tennessee’s first possession, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano trotted out to the 25-yard-line to lead the Vols’ offense.
That was about as far as he got.
On third-and-10, Alabama defensive lineman Xavier McKinney sliced through Tennessee’s offensive line, nailing Guarantano and causing a fumble. McKinney picked up the loose ball and returned it to the 3-yard-line. Josh Jacobs powered into the end zone less than five minutes into the first quarter.
Alabama pressured through on the next possession, as Tagovailoa found Jaylen Waddle for a 77-yard touchdown pass. Waddle streaked untouched into the end zone.
The effort on that play summarized the Vols’ stamina, both mental and physical, as the afternoon wore on. Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt seemed less than pleased.
“We ain’t got enough guys out there today that wanted to do it the right way,” Pruitt said. “There’s some guys in our program, that this game was way too big for them.”
Perhaps it was.
Following the Crimson Tide’s third touchdown, Alabama’s defense forced the Tennessee offense into another three-and-out. Damien Harris added a six-yard run for a touchdown near the end of the first quarter. After the first 12 minutes, the Crimson Tide led by four touchdowns.
In the second quarter, Tennessee’s slow-moving offense finally seemed to spring to life — at least for a few moments.
After moving inside the 10-yard-line, Guarantano found Ty Chandler on a swing pass for a 10-yard score, and the Vols seemed to have some momentum.
Until Alabama’s next possession, at least.
Jacobs pushed into the end zone from two yards out, extending Alabama’s lead to 28. Each team added another touchdown to make the score 42-14 at the half.
After a hard-fought loss at Georgia and the win at Auburn, Pruitt discussed how proud he was of his team and how the Vols could win “with the guys in this locker room.”
But, trailing Alabama by four touchdowns and heading into the locker room, Pruitt told a completely different story to CBS Sports’s Jamie Erdahl.
“I promise you, I will recruit 25 other guys that will play the right way so we don’t have to play in another game like this,” Pruitt said.
After the break, Alabama did what the No. 1 team in the country is supposed to do: dominate. The Crimson Tide forced Tennessee into a safety and added two more touchdowns to Tennessee’s one.
However, the most discussed takeaway will be Pruitt’s commitment to the players in Tennessee’s locker room.
Most athletes on the Vols’ current roster were recruited to Tennessee by former coach Butch Jones, who roamed the Alabama sideline Saturday on staff for Nick Saban.
Pruitt did credit four seniors, Alexis Johnson, Shy Tuttle, Kyle Phillips and Paul Bain, as players who are “trying to do it the right way.” But the team as a whole underperformed.
Pruitt said Tennessee simply “wasn’t good enough.”
However, Pruitt said all the pieces are in place for a good team.
He also noted it will take more than the right parts to put this puzzle back together.
“It takes more than seven on defense and five on offense,” he said. “The last two teams whipped us up front.”
Next week, Tennessee looks to rebound mentally and physically, as the Vols take on a struggling South Carolina team. Pruitt said that he thinks the Vols will be able to bounce back.
Tennessee takes on the Gamecocks at 7:30 p.m. next week in Columbia, South Carolina. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
Featured image courtesy of Jake Nichols
Sports editor Jake Nichols has been part of the TNJN staff in two different capacities. His freshman and sophomore years, Jake worked as a staff writer before moving on to write for Rocky Top Insider, and he also worked with VFL Films and the SEC Network for a semester his junior year. When asked the summer before his senior year to return to TNJN as the sports editor, Jake jumped at the chance to end his time in Knoxville working with the organization he first began with as a freshman. Jake is excited to help lead younger writers, much like former editors Cody McClure and Jordan Dajani aided him. Jake also does freelance sports coverage and photography for The Mountain Press in Sevierville, Tenn., and in his spare time, he can be found with family, his girlfriend or driving his Jeep, most likely with his Canon in tow. Be sure and follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram at @jnichols_2121, and keep up with TNJN Sports on Twitter as well!