KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Alabama’s 44-13 victory over Tennessee wasn’t flashy. But it so methodical, so dominating, so inevitable that Saturday night seemed especially discouraging.
Alabama has now beaten the Vols six times in a row, winning by exactly 31 points in each of the last three games.
The talent gap leaves little room for optimism in the immediate future.
1. Make no mistake: Unless there were extenuating circumstances we didn’t know about, Tyler Bray should have made himself available to meet with reporters after Saturday night’s game. Skipping out doesn’t send the right message to other teammates. As a team leader, that’s a chore that Bray should force himself to endure.
2. That said, I think some of the criticism of Bray has gone a bit overboard. At the end of the day, he’s an amateur athlete. I have no problem calling out well-compensated coaches or millionaire players who are happy to revel in praise when they win but duck out when things are going poorly. But that’s not really the case with Bray. He doesn’t enjoy media sessions under any circumstances. He had a bad day and didn’t feel like facing the hordes. It wasn’t the right decision from a perception standpoint, but I can’t really blame him for not wanting to do it.
3. I was a bit surprised that Derek Dooley focused so much of his ire on the offense during post-game comments. Yes, the offense was terrible, but what team has looked good offensively against Alabama in the last three years? Very few.
4. Aside from the score, the other big disappointment Saturday night was the crowd. Alabama had a huge presence, and not just in the designated visitor sections. Some folks in the press box guessed 35,000 to 40,000 Bama fans. I thought it was more likely 25,000 or 30,000. But it was still a huge presence for a visiting team.
5. Seeing the empty spots in the student section at kickoff was also quite jarring. I wonder if fans realize what an anomaly that is in the SEC world. In most SEC schools, the student section is packed to overflowing an hour before kickoff. At Tennessee, the section couldn’t even sell out for what is — or was — the season’s biggest game.
6. The crowd situation could have been an embarrassment as Tennessee honored the 1997 SEC championship and former coach Phillip Fulmer before the game. There were definitely boos from the Alabama fans, but it wasn’t as many as feared. I watched through binoculars and actually saw many in crimson clapping politely.
7. There was a sort of wistfulness as Tennessee showed the highlights of the 1997 team, a depressing contrast to the state of the program now. The worst was an extended montage of 1997 that was shown on the video board before the start of the fourth quarter when Alabama’s rout was on and some fans were beginning to hit the exits.
8. Credit John Brice, an outstanding reporter for Volquest, for asking Dooley in post-game whether he felt like he had the support of the administration. Dooley answered in one word: “Yes.” Then he searched for another question, making it clear he had no interest in elaborating.
9. By answering in that manner, Dooley ensured that virtually everyone would interpret the “Yes” as a “No.”
10. The next week five weeks could be interesting. Yes, the Vols have four winnable (although far from guaranteed) games to close the season. But will they be able to hold things together if they fall to 0-5 in the SEC after a loss at South Carolina? The more interesting question: Will it matter? If the Vols look flat at South Carolina, the clamor for immediate change will grow.
11. Alabama coach Nick Saban, who said after the game that Dooley was doing a “fantastic job,” offered perhaps the least helpful endorsement ever.
(Photo credit: Michael Patrick, News Sentinel)