KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — So much for it being a rivalry game.
Even though former University of Alabama assistant coach Jeremy Pruitt was on the other sideline, and Tennessee was coming off its first big win for the new head coach, the Volunteers learned the hard way that they still have a long road before it can compete with the No. 1 Crimson Tide.
After demolishing the home team in the first quarter, when it quickly matched the popular 28-point spread, Alabama celebrated with cigars for the 12th straight time with a 58-21 victory at Neyland Stadium.
“I was really pleased,” Nick Saban said. “A lot of guys are having fun in the locker room.
“All around, great win.”
The coach didn’t even seem bothered that a fan threw ice at him when heading to the locker room at halftime. Of course it helped that his side was up 42-14.
Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) didn’t start running back Damien Harris or defensive end Raekwon Davis due to “interal” issues and hardly anyone noticed. It plugged in sophomore Deonte Brown at left guard and was without sophomore wide receiver DeVonta Smith and the first-team offense still went up and down the field almost at will while racking up 545 total yards.
Tennessee (3-4, 1-3 SEC) managed to force Alabama to punt a couple of times, with senior Mike Bernier having taken over the responsibilities and banging out a pair of punts, which was more than the previous couple of opponents.
But that was after Alabama carved up Tennessee during the first quarter while jumping out to a 28-0 lead.
Although sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was still having trouble with his sprained knee and brace, the offense was nearly unstoppable. Sophomore wide receiver Jerry Jeudy caught his 10th touchdown pass of the season to open the scoring and freshman Jaylen Waddle later added a 77-yard catch-and-run score of his own.
In between, Alabama enjoyed a sack and fumble, with safety Xavier McKinney catching quarterback Jarrett Guarantano on a blitz and senior linebacker Christian Miller making the recovery to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Josh Jacobs.
“It’s always important to take the crowd out of the game early when playing on the road,” Saban said.
Actually, they started leaving.
During the first quarter, Tennessee had 17 plays on four possessions, with only six resulting in a positive gain.
Meanwhile, Alabama had 217 total yards and four touchdowns, the fourth being a Harris 3-yard run to cap a 93-yard drive.
Tennessee dug deep into its playbook to score two offensive touchdowns in the second quarter, including a 40-yard flea-flicker after Guarantano was knocked out of the game on a hard hit by junior linebacker Mack Wilson (he finished 5-for-10, 63 yards), but both times Alabama answered.
The second time, the 2-minute offense needed almost exactly that long to go 85-yards on nine plays with junior tight end Irv Smith Jr. catching a 9-yard touchdown on a corner route.
After Tennessee opened the second half with a botched fair catch on the kickoff, and quarterback Keller Chryst tripped over his guard’s foot for a safety, Taglovailoa connected with sophomore quarterback Henry Ruggs III for a 41-yard touchdown. With the quarterback also taking a hard hit on the play, Saban had seen enough and started the parade of reserves.
Alabama outgained Tennessee 545-258. It was 6-for-7 in the red zone with the lone miss late in the game when it was trying to run out the clock. It finished with an advantage of 218-31 on the ground as the defense yielded an average of 1.0 yards per carry.
Tagovailoa finished 19-for-29, 306 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 199.7 passer rating. All of the touchdowns were caught by different receivers, with three different Crimson Tide players running one in as well.
Before the quarterback could dump a celebratory bucket of water over Alabama analyst and former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones the smell of cigars began to fill the Knoxville air.
It’s become a very familiar smell and scene here, regardless of the opposing coach.
“It makes it more fun when you don’t just have one person to throw to, but you have running backs that you can make plays to,” Tagovailoa said. “It’s just fun out here.”