No surprise: The Tennessee Vols can't keep up with Alabama's offense | Adams

John Adams
Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee had just scored its first touchdown on a perfectly thrown 47-yard pass from quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to freshman wide receiver Jalin Hyatt late in the first half.

With back-to-back scoring drives, UT trailed No. 2 Alabama by 11 points.

What happened next was a great reminder of just how good Alabama’s offense is.

Quarterback Mac Jones threw deep for wide receiver John Metchie, who went up between two defenders and made the grab for a 45-yard line. The coverage was good. The pass and catch were better.

Alabama was on its way to four first-half touchdowns en route to a 48-17 victory Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium. The victory extended Alabama’s winning streak against UT to 14 games.

The victory also upped coach Nick Saban’s record to 23-0 against his former assistants. UT third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt was a defensive coordinator at Alabama before taking the Tennessee job.

His UT defense frequently looked helpless against the Tide.

Never mind that Alabama lost big-play wide receiver Jaylen Waddle for the season when he incurred a lower-leg injury on the opening kickoff. Alabama’s dynamic offense kept rolling along, just as it has all season in a 5-0 start.

Alabama running back Najee Harris (22) pushes back Tennessee defensive back Trevon Flowers (1) in the second half during a game between Alabama and Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

Waddle’s loss might prove significant later but it didn’t matter against the 2-3 Vols.

Running back Najee Harris made the tough yards, and Jones carved up UT’s secondary, completing 17 of 22 passes for 297 yards in the first half alone. He finished with 25 completions in 31 attempts for 387 yards. Unlike his highlight connection with Metchie, most of his passes were to wide-open receivers.

As productive as Alabama’s offense was early in the game, it didn’t make a strong enough impression on Pruitt.

Already trailing 14-0, the Vols faced a fourth-and-2 on Alabama’s 16 when Pruitt elected to kick a field goal. Brent Cimaglia’s kick was good, but the Vols lost ground.

It was obvious by then that you needed touchdowns to keep up with the Tide. Moreover, Tennessee, twice had converted third downs in the drive on runs by Ty Chandler and Eric Gray.

Despite UT's timid approach, its offensive performance was an upgrade over Kentucky. Guarantano didn’t make any turnovers, and Tennessee ran the ball effectively at times.

But Tennessee’s defense was so bad Pruitt probably regretted firing defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh after the Kentucky game. He could have used a defensive fall guy against Alabama.

As it was, Pruitt coached UT’s defensive front, which struggled to make headway against the Tide’s talented, experienced offensive line. There’s no shame in struggling against that bunch, which is loaded with future NFL players.

Fortunately for Tennessee, Alabama became more conservative offensively in the second half. Still, trying to tackle the 230-pound Harris was no bargain. He walked into the end zone on two of his three touchdowns runs, including one late in the third quarter that upped Alabama’s lead to 42-10.

While Alabama’s offense often seems unstoppable, its defense has work to do. That was apparent again when Tennessee zoomed 85 yards in just four plays for a third-quarter touchdown, capped by a scoring pass from Guarantano to Josh Palmer.

Alabama’s offense often has led the way since it began dominating the series under Saban. That hasn’t changed since the defensive-minded Pruitt took charge.

He’s now 0-8 against Alabama, Georgia and Florida – the three most prominent programs on UT’s schedule. The closest Tennessee has come was by 22 points against Alabama last season.

If the Vols are making progress against the Big 3, it’s not detectable on the scoreboard or by the human eye.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or Follow him at: