Tennessee’s old-school offense showed some spark against Alabama on Saturday. As it turns out, that wasn’t enough to ignite an upset.
The Vols stuck with a slightly revamped look of their new look offense against the Crimson Tide on Saturday since Tennessee arrived at the conclusion, long ago, that it was more ball-control than they were last a year when they beat Alabama for the first time since 2006. The Vols lost on Saturday 34-20
There was little chance that the Vols would resurrect the deep-passing, downfield-attacking attack that led the Vols to a victory last season. For the most part of the game, the more convervative route worked against Alabama even though they never quite looked like the Vols of 2022. Tennessee never trailed in the game until late in the third quarter. However, what the Vols lacked in aggressive play calling, they made up for in fourth-down decisions. The Vols attempted to convert three fourth downs and converted none.
A questionable decision to go for a first down on a fourth-and-one at the Tennessee 47-yard-line led to a first down in Alabama territory. The subsequent drive led to an Alabama touchdown drive that would give the Crimson Tide the lead for the first time in the game with just a few minutes left in the third quarter. Bama would take the lead 24-20 with just under four minutes left and quickly extend that lead to 34-20.
Tennessee’s previous drive ended in a failed fourth-and-one attempt in which UT running back Dylan Sampson was stopped for no gain at the Tennessee 47-yard-line. Alabama took the following drive and scored, giving the Crimson Tide 17 points in the third quarter after trailing the Vols for the entire second half and then some.
Fourth-down opportunities weren’t the only missed opportunities for the Vols who struggled in the red zone, scoring just 13 points on four trips inside the Alabama 20-yard line.
Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton played one of his better games of the season, considering the opponent, as he completed 28 of 41 passes for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, later in the game, the senior struggled against the Bama pass rush and gave up a touchdown after a strip sack. As spotty as Alabama’s offense was in the first half, it was solid and confident in the second half.
The decision to go for it on fourth down late in the third quarter in Tennessee’s own territory will understandably be questioned. By not converting, the Vols gave a surging offensive a short field to take the lead after Tennessee dominated much of the game to that point.
The game was essentially over when Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton lost a fumble midway through the fourth quarter that resulted in a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, which gave Bama a 34-20 lead.
The loss would seem to eliminate any chance that the Vols have to win a championship this season. After a loss to Florida in September and another SEC defeat to Alabama, the Vols would have to beat the No. 1 team in the nation, Georgia later this season, and likely need a lot more help to win the SEC East with two conference losses.
Just when it seemed like the Vols were in control in Tuscaloosa heading into the third quarter, things went terribly awry as Tennessee gave up 20 unanswered points in an incredibly one-side third quarter in which Bama outscored Tennessee 17-0 after some halftime adjustments.
It was a brutal game for Tennessee fans to watch as the Vols were in control for the first half of the game before the Vols slide began and never ended, falling behind by two touchdowns in the second half and losing by two touchdowns.
It had been argued that the Vols were too conservative in the passing game this season, likely hamstrung by Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton’s lack of consistency as an accurate passer. The Vols were slightly more aggressive when throwing the football, but Tennessee still hasn’t regained that “pop” it had last season when the Vols could seemingly score from anywhere at anytime.
Things won’t get much easier for the Vols as they travel to Lexington on Saturday to face the Wildcats, who are now 5-2 after a win against Missouri on Saturday.