Tennessee looks like a better coached football team than Alabama. Yes, I said it. | Opinion – USA TODAY

  • October 12, 2022

Alabama’s Nick Saban is the best coach in college football history. But No. 1 Alabama doesn’t look like a well-coached team.
In fact, Tennessee looks like a better-coached team prior to Saturday’s matchup of unbeaten teams at Neyland Stadium.
That’s based on a small sample size and doesn’t mean UT’s Josh Heupel eventually will surpass Saban as the coach of the century. It’s just a reminder of how different this coaching matchup is from all the others during Alabama’s 15-game winning streak in the series.
Saban could have taken off his headset and gagged himself when he squared off against the likes of UT coaches Jeremy Pruitt, Butch Jones, Derek Dooley and Phillip Fulmer. He could have communicated with his staff and players in sign language and usually outcoached those guys.
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Lane Kiffin was the exception. The current Ole Miss coach was at UT for only one season (2009) but made a strong enough impression that Saban later hired him as his offensive coordinator.
Never mind that UT ended up 7-6 and Alabama won the national championship. Kiffin outcoached Saban that afternoon even though the Tide prevailed 12-10 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
It’s not farfetched to think Heupel could do the same Saturday.
Heupel influences a game more than any other coach Tennessee has had in my 35 years at Knox News. He also runs the kind of up-tempo, spread offense that occasionally has caused problems for Saban-coached teams.
It’s not just the offensive system or the fact the Vols have a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Hendon Hooker that make them a threat to end Alabama’s dominance. Heupel is such a creative play caller. You saw that again last Saturday in UT’s 40-13 rout of LSU.
A couple of short-yardage calls stood out. On one, Tennessee got a first down on a third-down end-around. On another – this time on fourth down – Hooker executed a shovel pass to tight end Princeton Fant for another first down.
Another reason for Tennessee fans finally to be optimistic against Alabama: The Tide have been mistake-prone. That was apparent in their narrowest victories – 20-19 over Texas and 24-20 over Texas A&M last week.
Alabama was penalized 15 times for 100 yards against Texas. It was penalized six times for 73 yards against Texas A&M. Turnovers were a bigger problem than penalties in the victory over the Aggies. The Tide had to overcome three lost three fumbles and an interception before finally securing the win.
Backup quarterback Jalen Milroe, who started for an injured Bryce Young, was responsible for three of the turnovers. He lost a couple of fumbles and threw an interception. He also passed for three touchdowns and rushed for 83 yards, but those turnovers would be hard to overcome against a better team than the Aggies.
Perhaps, the turnover issues will be resolved if a healthy Young returns to run the offense. However, even when Young was playing in Heisman Trophy form, Alabama wasn’t mistake-free. Its receivers dropped too many passes. As talented and clutch as Young is, he can’t throw the ball and catch it, too.
Tennessee has a rare advantage against Alabama at wide receiver. And it also has a coach who knows how to get them the ball at the right time and place.
John Adams is a senior columnist. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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