By Tommy DiCostanzo
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
After Alabama’s 35-13 victory over Tennessee on Saturday, Crimson Tide linebacker Terrell Lewis asked a question.
“Do I still sound like Mike Tyson when I’m smoking,” Lewis said.
For the 13th year in a row, the Alabama locker room was filled with cigar smoke after a victory over the Volunteers.
Not only did Lewis sound like Mike Tyson but he played like him, too. Lewis tied for the team lead with five solo tackles and added two sacks and a tackle for loss. It was his second consecutive game with two sacks.
On a night when the Alabama offense wasn’t dominating like it normally does, the defense had to step up, especially when star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went down with an ankle injury in the second quarter.
“I felt like as a defense this was our first chance to react to adversity and really step up as a team and build and grow from it,” Lewis said.
The defense relied on the veteran leadership of Lewis, defensive tackle Raekwon Davis, and defensive backs Trevon Diggs and Xavier McKinney. The duo of freshman linebackers Shane Lee and Christian Harris struggled at times.
“I’m pleased with the progress these guys are making,” said head coach Nick Saban. “These two freshman are out there everyday in practice and they don’t have anyone in front of them who can show them how to do it. They have to learn everything through their experience and it’s a work in progress.”
Since the pair couldn’t look ahead of them in the depth chart for help, they instead turned around for advice. Throughout the game, Lee and Harris could both be seen looking to safety Xavier McKinney for direction. But their athleticism saved them from their mental errors.
In the first quarter, Lee laid a hit on Tennessee quarterback Brian Maurer that was initially ruled targeting. The flag was picked up off after further review. Maurer walked off the field under his own power but he did not return. Jarrett Guarantano replaced him.
The secondary struggled at times with the Tennessee receivers, but Diggs and his teammates had the last laugh in the end.
The Vols had a fourth-and-goal on the Bama 1 midway in fourth quarter. Guarantano attempted to score on a QB keeper but as he extended for the end zone, the ball was knocked out of his hands. Diggs scooped the ball off the ground and exploded in the opposite direction, taking the ball 100 yards for a touchdown. The score gave the Tide a 22-point lead that they did not relinquish.
“They thought I was tired,” said Diggs. “But I wasn’t.”