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10 Takeaways: Alabama Crimson Tide beats Tennessee 35-13

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Here are 10 takeaways following the Alabama Crimson Tide’s 35-13 victory over Tennessee.

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1. Alabama confident in Mac Jones

Brian Robinson Jr. says he could see the nervousness in Mac Jones’ eyes when the backup quarterback came in to replace injured starter Tua Tagovailoa in the second quarter. That same uncertainty was evident on a few of the redshirt sophomore’s early throws as he failed to move Alabama’s offense on his first three drives behind center.

Jones' performance was a far cry from his Heisman-candidate teammate, but he did enough to keep the Crimson Tide’s perfect season intact, completing 6 of 11 passes for 72 yards.

“When he came in he was just a little nervous,” running back Brian Robinson said. “We had to pick him up. The more he played, he got a little bit more comfortable in the game and started to make plays, so we just got to keep him up, keep him motivated so he can come out strong next week.”

Following Saturday’s game, head coach Nick Saban said Tagovailoa “will probably be out for a week” with a twisted ankle. That means Jones is set for his first career start when Alabama hosts Arkansas for its annual homecoming game.

“I trust all our guys,” outside linebacker Terrell Lewis said. “He’s a challenger. We call him little joker. He’s like a Tom Brady to us. I feel like it caught him off guard today, but he’ll build off it. He’s a talented dude.”

2. Terrell Lewis says Tua will be back by LSU

While Alabama will need to temporarily adjust to life without Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide is hopeful its starting quarterback will make a swift recovery. Following Saturday’s game, Lewis said he spoke with the left-hander who assured him that he’d be able to return in time for No. 1 Alabama’s crucial clash against No. 2 LSU.

“He said, ‘I’ll be back for LSU,’” Lewis said. “I know how Tua is. It’s something he’s been through before, so I don’t doubt the fact that he’s a competitor. He’s going to get right back, and he’ll be fine.”

Alabama will host Arkansas this week before heading into an open week. That will give Tagovailoa three weeks to recover before the Crimson Tide hosts the Tigers on Nov. 9.

3. Will Reichard re-injured

Tagovailoa wasn’t the only Alabama player to leave Saturday’s game due to injury. The Crimson Tide also saw freshman kicker/punter Will Reichard limp off the field following a 33-yard punt in the second quarter.

Reichard has been recovering from a hip flexor injury he suffered during a kickoff against Southern Miss on Sept. 21. The injury forced him to miss Alabama’s games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

“Will Reichard may have re-injured (his hip),” Saban said. “He said this thing never hurt him at all punting. He was a little skeptical about kicking even though he has kicked some. And he punted in pre-game fine. Then, he might have re-injured himself. We don’t know the extent of that injury.”

Joseph Bulovas handled kickoff and placekicking duties Saturday while walk-on Ty Perine made his debut at punter.

4. Alabama might have a new punter

Speaking of Perine, the freshman drew some of the biggest cheers of the night as he averaged 46.5 yards on his two punts. His first boot of the night traveled 42 yards, forcing a fair catch. Next, the strong-legged punter boomed the ball 51 yards before running down the field to make the tackle on Tennessee returner Marquez Callaway.

“I saw him punt two punts, and he punted them really well. Really well,” Saban said. “We are happy to see that. He is a guy that is just a walk-on that has gotten better throughout the course of the year, and we felt that it was time for him to get an opportunity based on the struggles we have had on that position, and he responded very well.”

Alabama went into Saturday ranked No. 129 out of 130 Division I teams, averaging just 34.54 yards per punt.

5. Alabama’s run game to the rescue

With Tagovailoa sidelined, Alabama generated a season-low 233 yards through the air. However, the Crimson Tide was still able to move the ball in the second half thanks to an improved performance on the ground.

Najee Harris reached the century mark for a second straight week, carrying the ball 21 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Robinson found the end zone from 9 yards out while rushing for 40 yards on seven carries. In total, Alabama ran for 140 yards on 34 carries, an average of 4.3 yards per attempt.

“We knew they were going to probably lean on us once Tua went out of the game,” Robinson said. “Just getting Mac Jones some more experience, we knew they were going to feed us the ball more, so we just had to be prepared for it.”

6. Slade Bolden gets his moment

Slade Bolden said he prayed for a moment like this. Taking a snap from the Wildcat formation on second-and-goal from the 6-yard line, the redshirt freshman faked an end-around to Henry Ruggs III before tossing the ball to a wide-open Miller Forristall in the end zone.

“We practiced it all week, and it’s one of those plays you hope to run,” Bolden said. “So, when the timing is right, it happens to get called. I’m just glad everybody executed up front. The linemen did a great job and Miller made a good catch. The play just worked out perfectly. I loved celebrating with my teammates. It was just a great experience overall.”

Bolden played quarterback in high school. During his senior year, he was named the Gatorade Louisiana Football Player of the Year, passing for 1,622 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 1,460 yards and 20 more scores.

“Of course I wanted to throw it; I’m a quarterback at heart,” he said. “I was a quarterback in high school, so I always want to throw the ball when I get a chance to. I’m staying patient and humble, so whenever my number is called, I’ll make the play.”

7. Terrell Lewis flips the switch 

A message reading “flip the switch” is written on Lewis’ waistband. The outside linebacker explains he got the inspiration from former Alabama defensive back Marlon Humphrey, who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.

“My freshman year I used to see him wear that, and he used to go crazy,” Lewis said. “I tried to follow his footsteps.”

Lately, Lewis has done just that. Against Tennessee, the redshirt junior tallied seven tackles, including three for a loss with two sacks. It was his second straight game with multiple sacks as he also got to the quarterback twice against Texas A&M. Lewis now leads Alabama with six sacks and nine tackles for a loss on the season.

“I try to keep it on, but it’s more of a mindset thing, more of a mentality like, ‘It’s game time, I’m going to flip the switch,’” Lewis said. “I don’t know, I guess it’s been working.”

8.  Trevon Diggs describes his 'favorite play' 

Tennessee had an opportunity to trim Alabama’s lead to a single possession midway through the fourth quarter as the Volunteers lined up for a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. However, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano lost the ball while trying to extend it past the goal line, allowing Trevon Diggs to pick it up in the end zone. The Alabama defensive back took off from there, returning the ball more than 100 yards downfield for a touchdown to put the game away.

“There was a lot of green grass,” Diggs said. “Everyone was on the inside, bunched up. It was probably my favorite play since I’ve been here, so I’m really excited.”

The score put Alabama up 35-13 with 7:21 remaining. Tennessee tried to test Diggs three plays later as J.T. Shrout unleashed a deep ball to Josh Palmer down the sideline. However, Diggs was there to knock it away, saving a would-be touchdown.

“They thought I was kind of tired, but I wasn’t tired,” Diggs said. “I just tried to play the ball as best I could, but I should have played it better. It should have been a pick.”

9. New offensive line provides push

Alabama might have finally put together its puzzle on the offensive line. For a second straight week, the Crimson Tide started the game with Alex Leatherwood, Evan Neal, Landon Dickerson, Deonte Brown and Jedrick Wills Jr. from left to right. Once again the unit provided an extra push on the ground.

“I think they did a good job, especially on the direct runs,” Saban said. “We seem to have more trouble running the ball on the edges. We couldn’t run the ball on the edges, but the direct runs were really good for us, and when you do that it means people up front are getting movement on people and the backs are hitting in north and south. I thought they did a really good job from that standpoint.”

10. Alabama needs to clean up penalties

Alabama continued to shoot itself in the foot, racking up eight penalties which resulted in 93 yards. That comes a week after the Crimson Tide was flagged 11 times for 91 yards against Texas A&M. Through seven games this season, Alabama has committed 53 penalties for a total of 490 yards. Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, Tennessee piled up 13 penalties of its own for a total of 93 yards Saturday.

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Andrew Bone, of BamaInsider.com, is a real estate broker in the state of Alabama. 

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