Reality has returned.
It may not be apparent yet to all concerned but Ole Miss extinguished some of the Tennessee football fire that had been raging unabated for two weeks.
Assuming dependable embers remain, Alabama will probably use them to light cigars on Saturday. Or maybe the Tide no longer bothers with smoky celebrations. It would be understandable if it now takes the Volunteers for granted. They are massive 27.5-point underdogs.
This is a tough stretch for Tennessee, eighth game in eight weeks. Depth was a problem at the start and injuries have made it worse.
There is small consolation in the schedule. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is not as good as Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral. Alas and alas, the Tide was much better than the Rebels when they played. It was 42-7 when reserves joined the fray.
Young had completed 21 of 27 for 241 and two touchdowns. Brian Robinson had threatened rushing records with 171 and four touchdowns. That was earlier this month.
It has been 15 years since Tennessee defeated Alabama. The last Vol victory was the third Saturday in October, 2006. George Bush was in the White House. Nick Saban was coaching the Miami Dolphins (not very well, 6 and 10).
Jeremy Pruitt was defensive coordinator at Hoover High. Bulked-up Barry Bonds hit his 715th home run and powered past Hank Aaron.
Here are far-out tidbits for you: Greg Schiano of Rutgers won the Eddie Robinson coach-of-the-year award. There was no such thing as an iPhone.
Tennessee football was then ranked seventh in the country. Phillip Fulmer, on his way to the hall of fame, was in charge. Eric Ainge was quarterback.
Thank goodness for good times remembered …
Ainge made a big play after one of his three interceptions. He pursued the villain, pushed him out of bounds at the UT 8 and prevented a touchdown. Alabama settled for a field goal.
Tennessee trailed for something more than 56 minutes but capped a 70-yard drive with an Arian Foster leap over the line for a 16-13 lead.
Alabama had two very late opportunities. Tennessee’s defense was too tough. The game ended with Jerod Mayo sacking quarterback John Parker Wilson. The crowd roared. Back then, Neyland Stadium could accommodate 106,695 if they were close friends.
This Tennessee team, 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the SEC, has earned respect. The Vols are physically beat up but not beat down. They competed gamely against Ole Miss until the last play.
Josh Heupel still has a stiff upper lip. He has spoken of how talented Alabama is. He has heard that Tennessee fans still consider this a rivalry game.
“Our guys and staff will be extremely excited about being ready for and going down to Tuscaloosa and competing against a really good football team.”
Assorted uncertainties are forming a line. Heupel health and welfare reports are deliberately vague. Early each week he speaks optimistically of the walking wounded and says the team doctor will tell him go or no on Friday. So far, the maybes have not played.
There is an obvious critical question at quarterback. Hendon Hooker suffered a leg injury against the Rebels. Heupel will not let him limp out to take on the Tide. Joe Milton has been wild high. Harrison Bailey has been an ornament.
Kentucky once defeated Tennessee with a wide receiver playing quarterback. That innovation is unlikely against Alabama.
The Mays brothers are allegedly day-to-day in the healing process. Tiyon Evans is possible instead of probable. We’ve stopped counting Vols lost for the season.
There are coaching questions awaiting answers. Special teams have erred three games in a row. Alabama won’t need any donations.
Mismatch or not, the outcome and margin do matter. Alabama, 6-1, must regain the attention of the selection committee to assure a place in the national playoff. That is not particularly good news for Tennessee.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is email@example.com