KNOXVILLE – Tennessee fell 45-10 at No. 1 Alabama on Saturday in its worst SEC loss since losing 49-7 at Arkansas in 2011
Here are the position-by-position grades:
Justin Worley, playing with a less-than-100-percent hand, struggled overall. He did complete 8-of-15 passes for 120 yards, but 43 of those yards came on an underthrown ball that receiver Cody Blanc made a nice adjustment on. Worley also threw two interceptions, including a pick-six that put UT down 35-0 at the half. Freshman Joshua Dobbs showed some good things in the second half. His numbers weren’t huge, but his running adds a different dimension to the offense and he threw a nice pass to convert a fourth down in the red zone. It’ll be interesting to see what direction the Vols go in with Missouri up next.
Running backs: C-
Outside of a 43-yard run by Rajion Neal, the backs totaled just 62 yards on the ground. Neal’s long run did set up a field goal, but the Vols were already down 35-0 at that point, rendering it almost meaningless. There just wasn’t a lot of room for this group to operate and the combination of Neal and Lane didn’t break many tackles.
Wide receivers/tight ends: B-
Marquez North (4 catches for 87 yards) and Blanc both had big receptions. For as talented as Alabama’s secondary is, this group actually did a decent job of getting open at times. There were some lapses, such as tight end Brendan Downs falling after breaking open on the first drive of the game. Pig Howard was relatively quiet as well, recording just two short receptions.
Offensive line: C-
Though the quarterbacks were pressured in situations, the O-line did prevent Alabama from collecting any sacks. There just wasn’t much room in the run game, though. The Vols averaged just 4.5 yards per carry with Neal’s 43-yard run in the second half significantly boosting that total.
Defensive line: D
It was a quiet day for the defensive front. No player on the defensive line had more than four tackles and the Vols recorded no sacks. Freshman defensive lineman Corey Vereen got his second personal foul of the season, giving Alabama free yards it didn’t need. Defensive tackle Daniel McCullers made a few stops, but was far from the dominant player the Vols needed him to be.
A.J. Johnson led the team with 10 tackles and added a quarterback hurry. Dontavis Sapp added seven stops and Brent Brewer recorded two tackles and a QB hurry as well. Johnson was active, but this group, overall, didn’t do enough to keep contain, limit Alabama’s rushing attack and help defend Alabama’s passing attack.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron pretty much had his way with the UT secondary. He completed 19-of-27 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The normally-tight coverage simply wasn’t there on Saturday. Alabama could’ve actually had more if McCarron hadn’t missed receiver Amari Cooper on a deep ball and if Cooper hadn’t been called for an offensive pass interference that erased another touchdown. Tackling must get better as well in the secondary. Cooper’s touchdown came on a simple catch and run. Those mistakes hadn’t been there as much in the past few games, but clearly returned against Alabama.
Special teams: C
Tennessee’s kick coverage was very poor. Alabama kick returner Christion Jones averaged 53 yards on his two opportunities on kickoffs and added 19 yards on two punt returns. The Vols did, however, have some good returns of their own, including a 45-yarder on a kickoff return by Devrin Young. Michael Palardy was solid punting and kicking. He averaged 46.2 yards per punt and hit a 37-yard field goal. Coach Butch Jones did partially blame him for the poor kickoff coverage though, saying he needed to do a better job of placing his kickoffs.
Tennessee probably wasn’t going to beat Alabama regardless of who was coaching. The Vols, however, did come out flat and were overmatched in virtually every aspect of the game. The defense was particularly sloppy. If not for an Alabama fumble at the 1, the Tide would’ve likely scored a touchdown on every single drive of the first half. It’ll be an extremely important week for this staff with two ranked teams (Missouri and Auburn) coming up in the next two games and uncertainty at the quarterback position.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga