TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Jalen Hurts was uncharacteristically inaccurate throwing the football, the usually reliable Calvin Ridley had a couple of dropped passes and Damien Harris was visibly frustrated when he was pulled on fourth-and-goal. All in all, it was a sloppy first half for Alabama. Tensions were high on the home sideline and Nick Saban was fuming. The 65-year-old coach was a little snippy with a sideline reporter before the break, explaining how he wasn't "pleased" with his team's performance.
Now, bear in mind that Alabama actually held a three-touchdown lead and was pitching a shutout against Tennessee. But that’s how far the 100-year rivalry, known as the “Third Saturday in October,” has come. Winning big isn’t nearly good enough. Dominating, as Alabama did when it hit its stride in the second half and cruised to a final score of 45-7, is what Saban & Co. are after.
It wasn’t just that Alabama notched an 11th consecutive victory in the series, it’s how bad the top-ranked Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC) made an already struggling Tennessee program look while doing so. Coach Butch Jones had no answers on offense, and to add insult to injury, fourth-year junior Rashaan Gaulden incurred an unsportsmanlike penalty for flipping off the Alabama student section with both hands after the Vols returned an interception 97 yards for what would be their only score. Down 28 points and facing Alabama’s backup quarterback at the time of the penalty, it was a bad look. It was, in fact, Tennessee’s first touchdown in 12 quarters of play.
“Keep Butch Jones! Keep Butch Jones!” a riled-up Alabama student section chanted during the fourth quarter.
If he wasn’t before, Jones, who is in his fifth season at Tennessee, is now squarely on the hot seat. In the midst of a three-game losing streak and sitting at 3-4 overall and 0-4 in conference, he’s in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since his inaugural season in Knoxville in 2013. Even former Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer, who insists he's in no mood for a coaching change, said earlier in the week he understands the frustration of the fan base.
On the one hand, you saw Alabama on its first series go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line and score a touchdown. On the other hand, there was Jones on fourth-and-2 inside Alabama territory, choosing to play it safe and punt the football.
In the fourth quarter, Tennessee thought it scored its first offensive touchdown in 13 quarters only to see it overturned on replay. Then, on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, a false start moved the Vols back 5 yards. After a short run, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw an interception on fourth down.
In what has become a familiar refrain over the past decade, Alabama was the hammer and Tennessee was the nail. And the Vols were beaten mercilessly.
Harris bounced back after being pulled on fourth down and scored his 10th touchdown of the season, Ridley became just the second Alabama receiver ever to notch 200 receptions (following Amari Cooper) and Hurts finished 13-of-21 passing for 198 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
As for what's next, No. 1 Alabama will enjoy a bye week before hosting LSU on Nov. 4. Tennessee, meanwhile, will travel to Kentucky next Saturday.