KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt had a pretty good idea what it would take to beat Alabama on Saturday, but he didn’t have the team to execute it.
“You look at their sideline and look at our sideline,” Pruitt said after the Crimson Tide crushed the Vols, “and they don’t hardly look the same.”
It was 28-0 in the first quarter and 58-21 when it finally came to an end in Neyland Stadium, a crimson-and-orange checkered crowd of 97,087.
But the game didn’t end before Pruitt, Alabama’s former defensive coordinator and arguably the best positioned coach on the planet to know how to scheme the Tide, had shown his blueprint.
The Crimson Tide rolled for 545 total yards and 30 first downs, Heisman Trophy frontrunner Tua Tagovailoa 19-of-29 passing for 306 yards and 4 touchdowns on what Alabama reporters said was “an off day” for him.
Before anyone question’s Pruitt’s planning, consider Tennessee is the first team to force Tagovailoa into back-to-back 3-and-out series in his career.
Georgia beat Pruitt and the Vols 38-12 earlier this season, but not before Tennessee sacked Jake Fromm three times, forced two fumbles and became the first (and still only) team to hold Fromm without a TD pass in 21 games.
So what does Pruitt say teams need to do to beat Alabama?
“If you are going to play these guys, you have to be able to deny the ball, and you have to have enough guys to stop the run, and you have to be able to play them man to man (in coverage),” Pruitt said after Saturday’s game.
“Lots of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, so they really stretch you sideline to sideline,” he said. “These guys can line up and run the ball, and probably not throw a pass today and they’d probably score 58 points.”
Pruitt explained why he couldn’t judge whether this Alabama team is better than last season’s national championship team, when asked by DawgNation.
“I don’t think that’s fair to judge, because things change every week,” Pruitt said. “They are very good offensively, they’ve got big men up front, they have good tight ends, they have a trigger puller, and they are explosive at wide receiver.
“It’s like I said, you have to be able to deny the ball, because if you are even with them in the box, they will beat you in the run game,” Pruitt said. “You play them one on one, they will try to throw their RPO stuff, so you have be able to deny the ball and play them man to man, in my opinion.”
Tennessee players wouldn’t come right out and say that no one else in the SEC could play with Alabama, but they made it clear they were impressed.
“They are very explosive, Tua brings a dimension to their team that hurts teams,” Vols senior defensive end Kyle Phillips said. “Probably out of all the dual-threat quarterbacks, he can really kill you with his arm just as he can with his feet.”
Tennessee senior middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland was asked what a team would have to do to slow the Alabama offense.
“Overall, just consistency on the back end and consistent pressure up front,” Kirkland said, “executing on all levels.”
Cornerback Baylen Buchanan, son of former Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl defensive back Ray Buchanan, gave his take on stopping the Tide.
“You have to be more physical than them,” Buchanan said, “and you have to pay attention to the details and know what’s coming before it happens.”
The closest to hope that any Tennessee player offered for future Alabama opponents came from defensive end Darrell Taylor, when asked if anyone could beat the Tide.
“I think if any team plays well,” Taylor said, “they can beat anybody, that’s all I think.”