Tennessee 20, Alabama 34 | Postgame Reflection & Advanced Box Score

Control the controllables. 

As a fan, the frustrating part of sports is that you can control so little. You can give money to the school, you can give money to the Volunteer Club. You can show up to the game and scream your head off, and maybe if there's a false start or a delay of game you can high-five the folks around you and claim "that was us!" Supporting your team is a controllable. But from snap to whistle, you influence nothing that happens on the field. The whole game will come and go without your input despite your devotion to it. It's uncontrollable. 

It's frustrating to watch something that you love so much unfold in front of you while having so little say in what's actually happening. So we take to the airwaves and the internet to voice our complaints, because that's all we can do, complain. We all think we could coach the game better (which in 99.9% of cases is absurd). We yell about the QB and the OC and the lack of tackling and why didn't they blitz on 3rd down PAAWWWL!?!? So we tweet and yell and post and yell and yet none of it actually makes us feel better, because it's still an uncontrollable. We can't change the outcome of the last game nor affect the outcome of the next game. We're too far removed as fans. Of course, "control the controllables" applies to the team and coaches as well. They can execute better, they can call better plays. Josh Heupel admitted as much in hos post-game press conference. They need to control their controllables, too. 

Then add another degree of removal from the game--the referees. Talk about an uncontrollable. Statistically, Tennessee and Alabama were just about dead even throughout the game. In fact, Tennessee beat Alabama in just almost every statistical category. One category Tennessee lost, though--and you know where I'm going with this--was penalties. Tennessee was flagged 8 times for 55 yards, Alabama was penalized once for 5 yards. The Vols gained 22 first downs on Saturday, none by penalty. Bama had 20 first downs, 3 of which (15%) were awarded by penalty. One of those came when UT's Elijah Herring turned to another defensive player and pounded his fist to make a point--allegedly mimicking Bama's snap count. Another was given on a defensive holding penalty that didn't look different than any other pass play for either team all afternoon. 

Perhaps most frustrating were the penalties that weren't called, most infamously this: 

 ...wasn't called holding. Alabama scored a touchdown on this play. On the ensuing kickoff, officials determined this: 

...was tantamount to signaling for a fair catch, causing the ball to be dead at the 3 yard line. Technically, according to the rule, what Dee Williams did was an "invalid signal," defined as "any waiving signal" by the receiving team. You can consult the tape to see if you think there was any "waiving signal" given. [EDIT: Apparently this is not what was called as an invalid signal. Tennessee had a player in the front line of the kickoff return team put his hand over his head after the ball was kicked. You can see in this tweet. The point remains, was this a signal meant to deceive the kicking team?] Regardless of what you decide, it's an uncontrollable. You can't do anything about it. You can think it's one of the most egregious calls you've seen in decades of watching football--and I do--but you can't do anything about it. This is not something you control. It's not something the team controls. It's just something that happens. It's uncontrollable. 

You can review the calls and non-calls from this game and only reasonably come to one of two conclusions: the officials in this game were either A) acting maliciously or B) displayed gross incompetence. Now I'm not saying that these refs were on the take. But think about how easy sports gambling has become. If you could buy a lottery ticket and then influence what numbers were drawn? Maybe you wouldn't do that because you have integrity. But you know people who would do it.  On the other hand, Hanlon's razor says never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity

Either way, when I saw that ball put back at the 3, I knew the game was over. Either these officials were corrupt and stealing the game from UT, or too damn stupid to know the difference between slightly moving one's arms and waving them as a signal, not to mention reliably calling holding, pass interference, or grabbing a face mask. Either through malice or incompetence, this game was not going to be played in a fair environment. I cannot control how the coaches coach or how the players play. The players and the coaches can only control so much of what happens in a game themselves, because the highest level of control in college football is, unfortunately, a small group of men who in the throes of a midlife crisis decide to recapture the glory of their youth by making themselves the focal point of a game each week. They officiate the games as a side gig on the weekend, and they have no real accountability or incentive to do the job well. 

And I can't control that. All I can control is my support of the team, which I will continue to do. 

Five Factor Box Score

As you might imagine from the final score, UT lost most of these categories. But take a second look and the numbers are real close. Think one or two calls didn't make the difference? Executing better on just a couple of plays here and there? Again, things out of our control. But, it does help explain what happened.

Offensive Line Stats

Tennessee outperformed Alabama in nearly ever metric here too. The glaring one where the Vols got beat is power success--the percentage of 3rd/4th down runs needing 2 yards or less that were converted. Bama was perfect in that regard, and of course UT had at least one too many 4th down attempt that went nowhere. 

Player Usage/Predicted Points Added

Joe Milton outplayed Jalen Milroe, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. UT running backs outperformed Alabama's too, and the WRs were close.

What happened then? Look at the box score and UT was close or better than Alabama in most categories. Look at these advanced stats and UT was close or better than Alabama in most categories. So how did Tennessee lose this game? 


Whatever happened, it was out of your control. 


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