Down 15 to Alabama? On the road? At the Tide’s 1-yard line? All things considered, that is a pretty good situation to be in, and one that Tennessee found itself in Saturday. Until Jarrett Guarantano happened.
The third Saturday in October means Alabama and Tennessee square off in football. It’s a rivalry that dates back over a century and also a game that the Tide have now won 13 years in a row. This year’s installment, while not close on the scoreboard, was quite interesting.
Alabama entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country, and Tennessee entered as Tennessee. But for most of the game, the Volunteers were right in it, despite losing starting quarterback Brian Maurer to a concussion.
Part of the reason for the 21-10 halftime score was Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — a Heisman Trophy candidate and potential No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft — left with an ankle injury in the second quarter. The injury presented Tennessee with a rare opportunity: a legitimate chance to beat Alabama.
Unfortunately for the Knoxville faithful, Tennessee did not take advantage of the opportunity, and one crucial goal line play had a huge hand in that.
With Maurer out, former starter Guarantano took back the reins. Guarantano led Tennessee to two field goal drives, but the Volunteers could not find the end zone. Maybe that was why Guarantano made a questionable decision that effectively put the game out of reach.
The fateful drive began on the last play of the third quarter. Tennessee was trailing 28-13, right in the thick of things. Guarantano led Tennessee on a methodical 14-play, eight-minute drive that got the Vols all the way down to the 1-yard-line of Alabama. On 4th-and-goal, with a chance to make it a one-possession game, Guarantano called his own number. It was the wrong decision, because as he dove forward, Guarantano lost the ball. It was scooped up in the end zone by Alabama’s Trevon Diggs and returned 100 yards for a touchdown.
Just like that it was a three-possession game.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt was visibly upset after the play. When Guarantano came off the field, Pruitt grabbed his quarterback by the facemask and screamed at him. After the game, Pruitt was still upset and berated Guarantano publicly.
“It pissed me off,” Pruitt was quoted as saying after the game. “We had just ran a great drive. I would have liked to have seen us get the ball in there.”
On the next drive, J.T. Shrout replaced Guarantano under center. Shrout didn’t do much, and the game finished 35-13.
The loss drops Tennessee to 2-5 on the season and 1-3 in Southeastern Conference play. 2019 has the makings of another lost season for the Volunteers. A team shouldn’t be punished for losing to Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but when you have a chance like Tennessee did, it’s hard to feel good about the way things went, even though the Volunteers came closer than any other team to beating the Tide.
Tennessee plays Missouri on Nov. 23 in Columbia.
Meanwhile, Alabama stays Alabama, and is now 7-0. But Tagovailoa will miss at least one game, which means backup Mac Jones, who was quiet against Tennessee, will have to step in for the time being. Nick Saban and Co. are likely hoping that Tagovailoa is good to go when they take on No. 2 LSU in three weeks.