Tennessee 13 — Alabama 44
“The consensus No.1 of the BCS” the announcer declares of Alabama. Which skates over that championship game at the end of last season which kept so many enthralled, whilst both teams demonstrated a new style of football. Their defences had developed such a pitch of sophistication that they seemed to have discovered a Zen manner of playing – a sort of college football via negativa, in which more and more subtle negations strip away any lingering impulse to actually score points, whilst the D-line heroically denies the world and directs both teams towards a state of serene non-being. “Consensus” also makes the BCS rankings sound charmingly collegial and discursive, as if it the outcome was decided by a chuckling wrangle in a diner between pie and coffee, as opposed to repeatedly slamming several thousand pounds of young man into each other until a statistical pattern emerged.
But it may not be denied that Alabama is number one. And this week’s result will do nothing to alter that impression.1 Amari Cooper set a record for the most receiving yards for an Alabama freshmen (162, since you ask), and T.J. Yeldon now has two consecutive games in which he made over a century of yards on the turf. Apart from which, Alabama has cunningly trained up a quarterback, in the shape of A..J. McCarron, who appears to have escaped from the set of Glee. His whole appearance is so overpoweringly wholesome and plucky, he so powerfully exudes the air of someone who carries their own soundtrack around with them, that one cannot see him onscreen without picturing him in a montage. Like a man walking through strobe lighting in a club, McCarron’s person seems to freeze and stutter in heroic attitudes, whilst stirring music blares. Someone should look into the possibility that Alabama wins because the entire stadium cannot help but picture their quarterback leading the team to triumph in a wholesome and network-appropriate way. And he can throw. That first TD pass to Cooper looked like a training drill. OK, it was actually a catastrophic breakdown of coverage by the Tennessee secondary, but the thing still had to be sealed by hand-ball-hand transmission, they obliged.
After that, it was almost all downhill for he Volunteers, who were left nowhere (for those in Britain, insert your own joke about what this proves about The Big Society). By the end of the second quarter they were trailing by too much to look a realistic prospect, and hadn’t been putting on enough of a show for anyone to believe they would turn the Tide (oh yes, I went there) in the second half. If there had to be a turning point – and four-act structure suggests there does have to be – a C.J Moseley interception of Tyler Bray’s uncertain pass about five minutes into the second quarter provided it. The Alabama defense had ceased attempting to deny the world, and (presumably urged on by the example of Cooper) thought this catching the ball thing looked a pretty good lark. Moseley hauled it in (well, no-one on the Volunteers seemed to be about to, and it’s a shame to let a pass go to waste) and then Yeldon made a nineteen-yard zoom through the middle of the Vols’ defense to set himself up for a single-yard scuttle into the endzone.
That said, the game wasn’t dull. Alabama’s offense is impressive, but they aren’t over-slick – McCarron still takes the occasional jog around the backfield before chancing his arm, and there was a little creative juggling by his receivers at times before they got it firmly tucked and engaged the legs. Considered as a pure contest, the game might have left something to be desired, but as a display of football it was thoroughly good fun.
1 Mind you, the same universities’ women’s rugby game ended 49-5 in Tennessee’s favour this week, so it’s not all one way.