KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Breaking down No. 1 Alabama’s 49-10 win against No. 11 Tennessee on Saturday:
THE BIG PICTURE: Behind a dominant defense, new-look Alabama continues to roll, handing Tennessee its worst loss in this series in 110 years (a 51-0 Bama win in 1906). The Crimson Tide’s offense, a whole lot of hurry-up no-huddle spread orchestrated by freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, is different and dangerous. But the full, devastating effects of Nick Saban’s evolution are found on defense. To counter the sweeping offensive change in college football, Alabama has gradually rebuilt from those hulking squads of years into this year’s bunch. They’re still big, but they’re leaner and faster, maybe, than Saban has ever had. And now, the defense isn’t content to tackle – they also score. With a 58-yard pick six Saturday, Ronnie Harrison put Bama up 14-0 and became the seventh Alabama defensive starter to score a touchdown this season.
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT: Alabama rolled again, its 19th consecutive victory – matching the longest streak during Saban’s tenure — setting up a Game of the Year This Week that very few forecast before the season. Unbeaten Texas A&M travels to Tuscaloosa hoping to derail Alabama’s 19-game winning streak. Can the Aggies find a way to score against the Tide (and almost as important, can they prevent the Tide’s defense from scoring)? A&M’s defense could give the Aggies the best shot of anyone on Alabama’s schedule.
It sounds funny to say this, but Alabama’s offense remains a work in progress. The offensive line is, at least by Alabama’s standards, just OK. But in Hurts, a true freshman, the Tide has its first true weapon as a dual-threat quarterback. With that defense as a backstop (and a scoring machine, too) the Tide offense swing and sometimes misses — and then crushes a ball out of the park (see Bo Scarbrough’s 85-yard touchdown run as an example). Tennessee remains in contention in the SEC East, but the Vols don’t yet measure up to the SEC’s best, especially when they’re banged up. They could conceivably get another shot at Alabama in the SEC Championship game.
KEY PLAY: Late in the first quarter, Alabama scored a defensive touchdown. Of course. Trailing 7-0, Tennessee was threatening. On third-and-7 from the Alabama 37, Joshua Dobbs tried to throw a screen pass to running back Jalen Hurd — who was wrapped up by Bama linebacker Reuben Foster. As a result, the pass was easily picked off by free safety Ronnie Harrison, who had a clear path 58 yards into the end zone for a 14-0 lead. Harrison is one of seven Alabama defensive starters with a touchdown this season.
KEY STAT: Harrison’s interception return was the Crimson Tide’s 10th nonoffensive touchdown of the season. Early in the fourth quarter, Eddie Jackson returned a punt 79 yards for another touchdown – the Tide’s 11th non-offensive TD. That’s more than Bama scored last year (which was the most in Saban’s tenure at Alabama). Look at it this way: Alabama’s defense and special teams outscored Tennessee 14-10.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: He’s hardly a new face seven games into the season. But Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts continues to break out. He committed two first-half turnovers — a sack and fumble that led to a Tennessee touchdown — and his passing game isn’t precise. But Hurts’ mobility is something Alabama hasn’t had under Nick Saban. He finished with 143 yards in the air on 16 of 26 passing and ran for 132 yards and three touchdowns.