Never have I seen anything like it but I took an aspirin and am beginning to understand. Maybe it was as simple as the $11.7- million-dollar coach outcoaching the $9-million-dollar coach at halftime and absolutely ruining this third Saturday in October in suburban Tuscaloosa.
It was the exact opposite in the first half. Tennessee won the first quarter, 10 first downs to one. Alas, it lacks red zone efficiency. It should have had four touchdowns by intermission.
We don’t know for sure what Nick Saban told the Alabama team but it probably was fight, fight, fight and something technical about overcoming a 20-7 deficit and knocking the stuffings out of Tennessee.
There may have been colorful adjectives. The awakening was sudden.
The response was overwhelming or awesome or devastating, depending on your point of view. The Crimson Tide used up 41 seconds after the second-half kickoff to launch the comeback, two plays, 75 yards, new game.
“The change happened quickly,” Josh Heupel said.
Alabama racked up 27 unanswered points and won by two touchdowns. The happening looked far more convincing than those numbers. Vol finish was ugly. The outcome was not a total surprise. Tennessee hasn’t won at Alabama in 20 years.
Heupel said Tennessee football wasn’t smart enough or good enough on this occasion. He could have said more about the three fourth-down attempts that failed. He is 3-for-13 for the season.
Vol sophomore linebacker Elijah Herring offered a game summary: “We just let go of the rope, got comfortable, felt like we had already won.”
Saban said “Fun day. I enjoy coaching this team. They’ve got a good spirit about them.”
Nick, 71, implied the Tide is taking years off his life but said that is OK. He actually smiled but did not light his victory cigar.
Alabama is 7-1 and again a possible contender for the national playoffs. Tennessee is 5-2 and in danger of losing two more – or even three. Perils of the road are part of the problem. Officiating was suspect. Clues keep hinting that Heupel is correct, that the Vols just aren’t good enough.
Tennessee did not exactly lose the game, if you don’t count falling to pieces, if you ignore the special teams blunder, one Vol calling for a fair catch and another returning the kickoff.
Alabama deserved the victory. The Tide “held” off some of the aggressive Vol pass rush. There were only four sacks. The Tide squeezed down the nationally ranked running attack. Joe Milton was the leading rusher.
There were two plays of the game. Squirrel White made an unbelievable catch of the back third of a football for a 39-yard touchdown. I thought it was borderline impossible.
Edge rusher Chris Braswell beat Vol tackle John Campbell, blind-sided Milton and knocked the ball loose. Jihad Campbell scooped it up and scampered 24 yards for the wrap-up touchdown. Alabama fans jumped up and down, high-fived and sang along with “Dixieland Delight.”
They recognized the end when they saw it.
Statistics? Milton was 28 of 41 for 271 yards and two scores (White and tight end McCallan Castles, often deployed smartly as an H back). Squirrel snagged 10 for 111.
Milton ran a surprising 15 times for 93 yards, lost 34 on three sacks, netted 59. At 6-5 and 240, he is a load. He again ran over an unsuspecting defensive back.
Jaylen Wright ran for 22 yards. Jabari Small gained 24. Dylan Sampson had 28. There were no comfortable running lanes. The offensive line suffered some setbacks. Tennessee’s ground game had been No. 6 in the country.
Because of need, punter Jackson Ross is moving on up – 53.2 average, one returned for a loss, a 71-yarder allowed to hit and roll to the 3.
Winning quarterback Jalen Milroe completed 14 of 21 for 220 and two TDs. He lost an end zone interception to a Doneiko Slaughter deflection that fell into Jaylen McCollough’s hands.
Officiating is generally a poor excuse for losing but penalties were a significant part of the story. Eight flags fell on Tennessee. Seven were probably correct. Alabama was penalized once for five yards. Jersey grabs and pass interferences went unnoticed but they show in the video.
Heupel swallowed his tongue to avoid screaming.
“Next question. Was that long enough silence?”
I think he dodged an SEC reprimand.
Heupel did say he was extremely disappointed by the overall outcome. He found some light.
“We didn’t stop competing.”
He faced the truth.
“We weren’t smart enough. We weren’t good enough, starting with me in the second half.”
How about Milton? Was he good enough? How about overthrows?
“I thought he did some positive things. Started fast (9 for 9), was accurate with the football, was a good decision-maker. Did some solid things in the run game.”
I can help the coach with fourth-down decisions – wrong side of the 50, wrong formation, wrong running back.
Heupel did not duck appearances.
“We got to be better than what we were. Me, assistant coaches, the players, all of us.”
Kentucky is waiting. This will be the Wildcats’ game of the year.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org