KNOXVILLE – It was the toughest test of the season for Tennessee, and the final result was a 44-13 loss at the hands of No. 1 Alabama. The Crimson Tide moved the ball through the air with ease before relying on the ground game later in the second half.
The Vols not only couldn’t stop Alabama, they struggled to get much going on offense themselves. Quarterback Tyler Bray had one of the worst performances of his career and he didn’t get a lot of help from those around him.
Here’s a full report card from the Vols’ performance Saturday night:
Bray had his worst completion percentage of the season (48.1 percent), his second-lowest total of passing yards (184) and threw two more interceptions. For the most part, he hasn’t gotten the job done in the SEC this season. After the game coach Derek Dooley said the Vols needed better quarterback play. Backup Justin Worley got some work in the fourth quarter, but threw only four passes.
Running backs: B
We’ll grade on a slight curve here. The stats weren’t great, but nobody can run the ball on Alabama. That being considered, the effort was pretty good, especially with starter Rajion Neal (ankle) sidelined. The Vols averaged only 2.9 yards per carry. But starter Marlin Lane played well with 15 carries for 55 yards and five receptions for 48. Devrin Young added five carries for 21 yards.
Wide receivers/tight ends: C-
Justin Hunter had a 44-yard reception, Cordarrelle Patterson made a nice 25-yard grab over Alabama safety Robert Lester, and tight end Mychal Rivera had a 43-yard catch and run. That was about it for the passing game. Hunter had a chance to make a game-changing play at the end of the first half when he got behind the Alabama secondary, but he let a pass bounce right off his hands. Tight ends and receivers accounted for only nine receptions on the evening.
Offensive line: B
It could’ve been a lot worse for this unit. Playing against one of the best defensive fronts in the nation, it allowed no sacks and helped pave some room in the running game. It was far from dominant, but it’s hard to point a finger at this group as being a huge part of the loss.
Defensive line: B-
Alabama’s rushing yards piled up in the second half, but this unit held its own for much of the game against the top offensive line in the nation. There were no gaping holes early in the game, and the pass rush had its moments. Darrington Sentimore and Maurice Couch were each credited with a sack. Redshirt freshman Trevarris Saulsberry saw his first extensive action and had five tackles. Alabama eventually wore the whole defense down, but there was some progress from this unit.
A.J. Johnson had another big night with 14 tackles to go along with his rushing touchdown on offense. Herman Lathers added eight stops. That was about all of the contribution the Vols got from this group. Curt Maggitt is courageously playing through multiple injuries, but it’s noticeably limiting his production. Sophomore Jordan Williams got the start at the ‘Jack’ linebacker spot in place of Jacques Smith. He recorded two stops in his starting debut.
Multiple Crimson Tide players broke records in the passing game. Alabama isn’t know for its potent passing attack, but Tennessee had no answer for quarterback AJ McCarron or freshman receiver Amari Cooper. McCarron threw only five incomplete passes all evening, while Cooper piled up an Alabama freshman record of 162 receiving yards. Three of McCarron’s four touchdown passes were virtually undefended. Alabama players running free in the secondary was a common sight on Saturday.
Special teams: B+
Here’s a bright spot. Other than one 32-yard punt return, the Vols were nearly perfect on special teams. Kicker Michael Palardy hit his two field-goal attempts (32, 21) and an extra point. Palardy also has taken over the punting duties, where he had a good night with five punts for an average of 48.2 yards. It’s hard to believe teams still kick to Patterson. The junior return man had another impressive 45-yard kickoff return.
The reality is that Tennessee fared about as well as anybody has against the Crimson Tide this season. Alabama is the best team in the nation, and nobody has really come close. That’s still not an excuse for Dooley and the Vols. Dooley could’ve actually boosted his stock with a competitive loss, but not even that happened. Alabama coach Nick Saban is miles ahead of Dooley. He’s outscored him by a total of 93 points in three contests, including an 80-3 edge in the second half of those games. The mistakes and the missed assignments keep piling up. Dooley might be running out of time to fix them.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.