Top-Ranked Alabama Smashes Tennessee 45-7

Vols' Offense Struggles Again, But Defense Scores

Saturday, October 21, 2017 - by Larry Fleming
Tennessee's Daniel Bituli, a sophomore linebacker, had a 97-yard interception return for the Vols' only touchdown in a 45-7 loss to top-ranked Alabama on Saturday. It was the Vols' 11th straight loss against the Crimson Tide.
Tennessee's Daniel Bituli, a sophomore linebacker, had a 97-yard interception return for the Vols' only touchdown in a 45-7 loss to top-ranked Alabama on Saturday. It was the Vols' 11th straight loss against the Crimson Tide.
- photo by UT Athletics

(This story has been updated)

Tennessee, a 34-point underdog in one of college football’s better long-running series, stayed close for one quarter before top-ranked Alabama switched to another gear and pummeled the struggling Vols, 45-7, Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

The rock-ribbed Crimson Tide defense locked down Tennessee’s ground game, hounded quarterback Jarrett Guarantano relentlessly and the only way the Vols could score was on a Daniel Bituli 97-yard interception return – fourth-longest in school history – in the third quarter.

 

That broke a string of 12 straight quarters without a touchdown. Until Bituli’s superlative defensive play, the Vols hadn’t scored since the second quarter against UMass on Sept. 23, but the offense still hasn’t mustered more than a field goal or two.

That almost changed midway through the fourth quarter when the Vols’ D.J. Henderson recovered a fumble deep in Alabama territory. Tennessee moved to the 1, but a 5-yard penalty moved the ball back to the 6. On fourth down, after a timeout, Guarantano was intercepted by linebacker Mack Wilson.

So, the offense has gone 14 quarters without a touchdown and couldn’t score even with a sterling special team’s play on a kickoff return.

After Bituli’s pick-six, teammate Rashaan Gaulden celebrated the score by “flipping off” Alabama fans in the stands, and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“That’s not acceptable,” Vols coach Butch Jones said. “That’s something that will be dealt with internally. That’s not who we are and we talked about it. He felt awful about it, but it’s something we don’t accept in this program, and he understands that.”

Later Gaulden apologized:

“I want to make an apology to the University of Tennessee and the University of Alabama for my gesture after the pick-six by Daniel Bituli,” he said. “That remark that I showed was out of character and that’s not how my parents raised me. That’s not how a team leader should show (his) emotion on the field.”

In the end, Alabama, which has now won 20 straight SEC regular-season games, extended its streak of wins over Tennessee to 11 – the last two by a combined 77 points – in a 100-year-old series played every year since 1928 except for 1943.  

Alabama – it also has notched 20 straight wins versus Eastern Division teams – amassed a whopping 604 yards of total offense, including 332 passing. The Crimson Tide held Tennessee to 108 yards, just 44 yards on the ground.

“We have to execute,” Jones said. “It’s absolutely tearing me up; we have second-and-goal on the 6 when it’s really second-and-inches. We’re not executing in those situations. The ability to beat man coverage and protect the quarterback. I thought (Alabama) controlled the line of scrimmage all day.”

With the loss, the embattled Jones dropped to 6-18 against Top 25 opponents and 0-7 versus Top 5 teams and continues to fight for his job.

Jones will spend the coming days wondering if he’ll still be the Tennessee coach when the Vols play at Kentucky next week at 7:30 p.m. The Wildcats lost 45-7 at Mississippi State on Saturday.

“It’s all about the players,” Jones said. “I hurt for them because they invest so much in it. Our leadership is being challenged, our maturity is being challenged, but we have to stay together and work.”

Jones isn’t the only Vols coach to have trouble against ranked foes. Since 2007, Tennessee is winless in 17 tries against teams ranked in the Top 5.

Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was 9 for 16 for a meager 44 yards and was sacked four times, including twice by Levi Wallace for minus-18 yards. South Carolina got to him seven times a week ago, but the Crimson Tide defense punished the redshirt freshman throughout the game. He finished with minus-12 yards rushing on 11 tries.

The Vols (3-4, 0-4) played inspired football for a half, but still trailed the Tide 21-0 at the break when Alabama (8-0, 5-0) got two touchdowns aided directly by identical face-to-the-head personal foul penalties.

After the Vols’ offense went three-and-out with the opening possession, the Crimson Tide went 63 yards on 12 plays and running back Bo Scarbrough scored on a 9-yard run. The drive lopped 5 minutes, 35 seconds off the clock.

Early in the second period, the Vols seemingly had stopped an Alabama drive when defensive back when defensive back Shawn Shamburger stripped Tide tight end Irv Smith Jr. of the ball and the ball squirted through the end zone for a touchback.

However, Kongbo was flagged for his first personal foul penalty and Alabama wound up with a first-and-goal from the 1. A few plays later, Scarbrough scored again from the 1 on fourth down and the Tide had a 14-0 lead. The drive covered 85 yards and 15 plays in 4 minutes, 35 seconds.

“We were sluggish in the first half,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We were sluggish in practice this week and it carried over to the game, but it was a great team victory.”

Shamburger led the Vols with 12 tackles, Quart’e Sapp had 11 and Micah Abernathy and Bituli each had nine.

Tennessee, which failed to convert a third-down in the first half, was forced to punt again late in the second period. Alabama quickly marched 77 yards in six plays with Damien Harris scoring from the 11.

The drive, which took 2 minutes, 1 second and covered 76 yards in eight plays, was kept alive with the second Kongbo penalty after quarterback Jalen Hurts missed Calvin Ridley on a fourth-down pass.

The Vols, falling to 0-4 in conference play for the second time since 2014, couldn’t keep Alabama from scoring early in the third. Quarterback Jalen Hurts connected with Irv Smith Jr. on a 14-yard touchdown pass to finish off a 77-yard drive and extend the lead to 28-0.

Alabama clearly won the physicality battle and punished Guarantano the entire day, knocking his helmet off three times after hard hits.

“The games are always physical,” the Vols’ Kendal Vickers said. “You expect that going in. You just have to prepare your mind and your body for 60 minutes. They are a great team and showed it today, so our hats off to them.”

Place-kicker Andy Pappanastos kicked a 25-yard field goal and freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa zipped 23 yards for a touchdown to end another 77-yard drive with 12:59 remaining in the game.

Tagovailoa hit Henry Ruggs on a short out route and he turned the play into a 60-yard touchdown at the 4:49 mark. Ruggs, a freshman, has five receptions this season, all for TDs.

SCORING

Tennessee                 0 0 7 0 – 7

Alabama                    7 14 10 14 – 45

First Quarter

UA – Bo Scarbrough 1 run (Andy Pappanastos kick), 8:21

Second Quarter

UA – Scarbrough 1 run (Pappanastos kick), 4:48

UA – Damien Harris 11 run (Pappanastos kick), 1:18

Third Quarter

UA – Irv Smith Jr. 14 pass from Jalen Hurts (Pappanastos kick), 12:39

UA – FG Pappanastos 25, 3:13

Fourth Quarter

UA – Tua Tagovailoa 23 run (Pappanastos kick), 12:59

UA – Henry Ruggs 60 pass from Tagovailoa (Pappanastos kick), 4:49

Attendance: 101,821

YARDSTICK

                                               UT                   UA

First Downs                           7                      35       

Rushes-Yds                           30-64              53-272

Passing Yds                          44                    332

Com-Att-Int                           9-16-1             22-33-1

Plys-Tot Yds                          46-108            86-604

Fumbles-Lost                        0-0                  3-1

Punts-Avg                              9-45.8             2-42.0

Penalties-Yds                        9-81                7-56

INDIVIDUALS

RUSHING – Tennessee: John Kelly 12-63, Tim Jordan 2-7, Marquez Callaway 1-4, Ty Chandler 4-2, Jarrett Guarantano 11-minus 12; Alabama: Damien Harris 13-72, Najee Harris 7-50, Josh Jacobs 8-47, Tua Tagovailoa 4-36, Brian Robinson 3-23, Bo Scarbrough 9-18, Ronnie Clark 2-16, Jalen Hurts 5-14, Team 2-minus 4.

PASSING – Tennessee: Garantano 91-16-1-44; Alabama: Hurts 13-21-0-198, Tagovailoa 9-12-1-134.

RECEIVING – Tennessee: Callaway 3-14, Ethan Wolf 2-11, Kelly 2-5, Jordan 1-8, Brandon Johnson 1-6; Alabama: Calvin Ridley 8-82, Irv Smith 3-60, Henry Ruggs 1-60, Jerry Jeudy 3-48, Hale Hengles 2-34, Josh Jacobs N.Harris 2-10, Cam Sims 1-14.

(Contact Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)


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