The run that we believed mirrored the 2006 meeting between Tennessee football and the Alabama Crimson Tide. was soon put to bed. Rocky Top kept the game close until the midway point of the fourth quarter, largely thanks to an outstanding job on the defensive side of the ball, but there is still room for improvement.
Josh Huepel didn’t skip this game on the schedule. He wanted to make this game a statement, and for a while, he was doing just that. Although the game didn’t end the way that he or the team wanted, they are showing that they do have a steady foundation to build on.
One issue was that the Vols didn’t take enough risks at times. Heupel is doing a great job overall, but made some questionable play-calls that Tennessee football doesn’t need to make if it’s going to have any chance at beating Alabama.
Toward the end of the first quarter, faced with a 3rd and 28, Hendon Hooker handed the ball off to Tiyon Evans for just a gain of five yards. If the Vols are going to knock off top tier teams, they have to be willing to throw the ball on third and long, even with a deficit that large.
Alabama’s defense wasn’t going to let UT run on their line like that. Any top team would not let a 28-yard slip up happen often. It seemed like the Vols gave up for better field position position, but they have to take risks.
At the end of the half, Heupel made another careful decision when he called a handoff with six seconds left. Sure, the Vols had the ball on their own 22-yard line, but they trailed by a touchdown, and Alabama was going to get the ball back to start the second half.
Then there was a decision by Heupel to punt it on 4th and 1 late in the third quarter. Hooker had just run for six yards to the UT 47 on 3rd and 7 with the Vols still trailing by only a touchdown. Heupel then took a delay of game and decided to punt it.
That was very disappointing. Tennessee football is not going to win games by staying in its comfort zone, especially trying to upset the No. 4 ranked team on the road. You’ve got to go for that, and Heupel’s decision proved to be the wrong one anyway as Alabama marched down the field for a touchdown off that punt to go up 31-17.
Alabama’s special teams had some issues in the beginning that allowed the Vols to stay in the game early. They roughed the kicker, allowing UT to retain a first down and eventually score a touchdown. The Vols took advantage of those mistakes, which made the game close for a while. However, they didn’t pull together in the end.
Bryce Young did well running the ball, better than he has done all season long. He did that a week after Matt Corral torched the Vols on the ground. How is UT going to respond to this flaw in the defense that was exposed once again? They have to be able to wrap up and keep the quarterback in front. Young made it look easy, swiftly running through the defense.
There’s definitely lot to improve on with a bye week this weekend. It also comes at the right time with so many injures. The Vols need to prepare for a huge SEC East road game on Nov. 3 against the Kentucky Wildcats.
This past weekend, Tennessee football made a statement at Alabama to not be written off. They’ll have plenty more chances to do so after the bye, with the No. 1 ranked Georgia Bulldogs following Kentucky. How will they respond to those opportunities? That’s what will define Heupel’s first year on the job.