A lot of things went wrong on the defensive end for Alabama against Tennessee.
Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker threw for 385 yards and five touchdowns on the day while only throwing one interception. All five of those touchdowns went to wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, who had the best game by a collegiate wide receiver since Alabama’s own DeVonta Smith in 2019.
Hyatt caught just six passes in the game, five of which were the aforementioned touchdowns. He racked up an incredible 207 yards as well, torching the back end of Alabama’s secondary all night.
Tennessee was able to utilize a consistent rushing attack as well, averaging nearly five yards per carry throughout the game across four different rushers.
All these things led to Alabama giving up 52 points, the most it has given up in a game as a program in 115 years, dating back to a game against now-Division-III Sewanee in 1907.
Despite all of this, though, Alabama had a chance to win the game. Even after Will Reichard’s missed 50-yard field goal, Tennessee only had 15 seconds remaining in the game to score or there would have been a surely thrilling overtime period in Knoxville to play.
Hooker was up to the challenge though, going 45 yards in 14 of those 15 seconds in just two plays to set up Chase McGrath’s 40-yard field goal that will forever be etched in Tennessee lore.
We’re going to take a closer look at those two plays here to see what went wrong.
1st and 10, 0:15 4Q
Tennessee got the ball on its own 32-yard-line with just 15 seconds left in the game, and lined up with three receivers out to the wide side of the field and one to the short side.
Defensively, Alabama lined up with just a three man front on the defensive line, dropping eight into coverage an an attempt to prevent Tennessee from picking up chunk yardage.
The pass rush from Alabama failed to get a push up front, which was a consistent theme for much of the game, giving Hooker plenty of time to sit back and scan the field for an open man.
The Volunteers’ Ramel Keyton was lined up in the slot on the right side and ran a deep-in route. Alabama dropped its eight defenders back into zone to try to cover as much of the field as possible, but Keyton worked his way right into a gap between Alabama’s outside corner, deep safety and linebacker and Hooker found him there for an 18 yard gain.
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1st and 10, 0:09 4Q
Tennessee burned a timeout after the first down to set up its next play, which likely needed to move the Volunteers into field goal range for them to have a chance to win the game.
Alabama made substitutions at the timeout, switching to its ‘cheetah’ package that features its three pass-rush specialists, Will Anderson Jr., Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell, all on the defensive line.
The three linebackers lined up to rush the passer alongside defensive lineman Byron Young, putting four Crimson Tide players on the line this time, leaving just seven back in coverage.
Tennessee lined up in a similar formation, with three wide receivers to the wide side of the field, only this time the wide side of the field was on the left.
The Tennessee offensive line gave Hooker a clean pocket once again while his receivers worked against man coverage this time around, noted by linebacker Henry To’o To’o’s shadowing of Tennesee’s running back in the backfield. Only three Alabama players rushed the passer even though four lined up on the line, as Turner sat back to spy Hooker in case he scrambled.
On the far side, Tennessee wide receiver Bru McCoy got separation on Alabama cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry and Hooker delivered the ball where he needed to as McCoy cut inside. Safety Jordan Battle was playing a high zone without a man and came down to help out McKinstry, but McCoy made a great catch on a well-timed ball from Hooker.
This short two-play series showed Alabama try multiple defensive strategies and none work, which is a good synopsis of how the entire night went for Alabama’s defense.
Obviously, the next play was a 40-yard field goal, and you know how that turned out.
It’s no secret that the Crimson Tide has a lot to work on defensively after its Saturday performance, and it won’t get an easy turnaround either with SEC passing yards leader Will Rogers and Mississippi State coming to Tuscaloosa next week.
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