What We Learned: Alabama vs. Tennessee

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) passes the ball against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN on Saturday, Oct 15, 2022.

Well that game was something wasn’t it. 1,136 total yards, 101 total points, complete and utter jubilation for Tennessee and their fans, and perhaps one of the most devastating losses of the Nick Saban era for Alabama. Anyone who has read or listened to my content knows I have an Alabama bias due to attending school there, and we’ll get into all of it, but first and foremost, major props to the Volunteers for finding a way to get the job done for the first time since 2006.

This truly was a game for the ages that lived up to all the hype and despite being devastated by the result, I will certainly look back on this one as one of the greatest college football games I have ever watched. But now, it’s time to look back at what we learned from this one, starting as always, with the good.

Even while clearly not at 100%, Bryce Young cements his legacy:

Going into this game, Bryce Young had nothing left to prove, at least not in my eyes. I believe that he is the greatest quarterback to ever play at the University of Alabama and it’s not really close. But his performance at Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon may have been his greatest masterpiece yet. It was apparent early in the game by his awkward throwing motion that he was not fully healed from his shoulder injury, yet he still played almost a flawless game that came up just short.

Finishing 35/52 for 455 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no turnovers, Bryce Young and this Alabama offense completely had their way with the Vols defense. Of course, the reverse was true as well, which is why the result was what is was, but Young should be extremely proud of the effort he put forth in this one. Had anyone but Bryce Young started this game, Alabama might have lost by 25 or more.

Jahmyr Gibbs once again proves his status as the best (non Bryce Young) player on offense:

It seems like I ask it every week. Where would this offense be without Jahmyr Gibbs? The Georgia Tech transfer finished with 24 carries for 103 yards and 3 touchdowns while adding five receptions for 48 yards. Just so shifty and unbelievably hard to bring down in the open field, Gibbs is everything you want in a running back. This offense undeniably runs through him from here on out. The recipe has to be to get Gibbs going. We’ll address the defense in a minute, but that kind of offensive performance is going to be enough to take down most teams.

The receiving core steps up:

They came up short a few plays, but I was very encouraged from what I saw from guys like JoJo Earle, Ja’Corey Brooks, Kobe Prentice, Jermaine Burton, and Isaiah Bond. Traeshon Holden even came back with a big play after an inexcusable drop in the first half. Perhaps the most impressive game by the pass catchers was by Cameron Latu, who finished with 6 catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, making some really difficult plays along the way. Tennessee struggles to defend the pass, but it was an encouraging performance for the rest of the season.

Pass rush disappears:

With a set of outside linebackers that includes Will Anderson and Dallas Turner, against an offense like Tennessee that is throwing all over the field, you need your best players to step up and make a play. Alabama recorded just one sack as a team (it came from DJ Dale) and Hooker had all day to hit his open receivers. This simply can’t happen if you want to stop an elite offense.

Secondary gets torched…badly:

Kool-Aid McKinstry showed up to play (he was only targeted once throughout the game). Unfortunately for the Crimson Tide, he was about the only one. It seemed like every time you blinked, DeMarcco Hellams was three steps behind Jalin Hyatt, running for another score. Alabama better tighten some things up with pass happy Mississippi State coming to town next week, because they will get shredded again if not.

Clock mismanagement ultimately ends game:

Blame Bill O’Brien if you want. But this one is on Nick Saban, folks. The decision to have Bryce Young throw the ball three times with as good as Gibbs had been all night on the ground was so incredibly foolish and ultimately gave the Volunteers a chance to win the game in regulation. Reichard likely misses from 40 yards, but then the game goes to OT and the ball is back in Young’s hands instead of Hooker’s.

Penalties penalties penalties:

Blame the refs if you want. But there weren’t 17 bad calls in this one. Alabama’s 66 penalties on the season now rank DEAD LAST (131st out of 131st) in the FBS. They continue to shoot themselves in the foot. Yes, there were some difficult calls in this one. But not 17 of them. Alabama must clean this up if they want a shot the rest of the season.

Overall assessment:

A down and out Alabama team that needs to win every game for the rest of the year to have a chance at their goal. That’s the situation. It’s not impossible by any means, but they have a lot to fix. The progress of the offense is encouraging, but Nick Saban and Pete Golding must fix some things on defense if the Crimson Tide want any shot at glory this season. Otherwise, don’t be shocked if this season ends prematurely.