Tennessee gives Alabama football a scary night but it's a haze of Tide cigar smoke in the end | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

This column is about things left on the field and will continue no further references to mustard bottles. Even a threatening Tennessee fan’s cowboy boot wound up fulfilling its destiny as footwear, not a projectile.  

Instead, it’s about everything that Alabama football left on its own field at Bryant-Denny Stadium, plus a fair share of referee handkerchiefs. It’s about Simon and Garfunkel asking the plaintive question that defined the angst of a generation. “Where have you gone, Julio DiMaggio?” If you were more a country fan, think of “Gloom, Despair And Agony,” and you’ll get the same idea.

The No. 4-ranked Crimson Tide did not suffer an upset Saturday night – Tennessee wore out in a 52-24 loss that looked more familiar to the nation than it was – but it did quite a few of the things that teams which find themselves on the bad end of an upset tend to do: red-zone turnovers, blown coverages, a roughing-the-kicker penalty that bailed Tennessee out of bad field position and eventually led to one of those blown coverages – and that was just in the first half. 

Oct 23, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis (48) celebrates after a sack at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

The issues continued in the second half. The Crimson Tide had a punt blocked and was fortunate to escape with allowing a field goal. More and more as the game wore on, it mirrored the earlier loss to Texas A&M with the exception that the Aggies are better than Tennessee at this point in time, taking nothing away from the job Josh Heupel has done in Knoxville.

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Many of the traditionalists in Tuscaloosa like to see the “old-fashioned series” come back against Tennessee, but there is a whole generation of new-traditionalists whose notion of “old-fashioned series” means a cigar, a comfortable win and, for those of legal age (or close enough), perhaps an actual old fashioned. Saturday night was the rare occasion where the Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd had to rouse itself into full-fledged support. Three delay of game penalties in the first half really mattered. 

Oct 23, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) carries against Tennessee at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

That helped. What helped more, of course, was Bryce Young. He wasn’t perfect, but it’s hard to imagine where Alabama would stand nationally without his talent and poise. His pump-fake touchdown (after a Halloween-scary review) to start the fourth quarter was the decisive moment of the game. That’s both a compliment to Young and a commentary about how some teams in the SEC are creeping closer.

That play took special importance when fast-snapping Vols bit back with a 70-yard touchdown. Young didn’t flinch, but counterpunched. Then the much-maligned secondary came through with a Jalyn Armour-Davis interception that finally provided breathing room. 

So it wasn’t actual gloom, despair or agony, except as Alabama fans define it. That means not winning the national championship, and not even that is off the table. But it took hard work. 

Ultimately, Tennessee wore down where Texas A&M, further into Jimbo Fisher’s tenure and much deeper, did not. Talent remains on Alabama’s side against most of the SEC. Midnight isn’t going to strike any time soon, even if Alabama has to clean up some of the mess it made. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt