The Third Saturday in October is always heated, but especially so after the Tennessee Volunteers knocked off the Alabama Crimson Tide a year ago in Knoxville. And early on during the 2023 meeting on Saturday, it looked as if Josh Heupel's Vols might do it again, this time in Tuscaloosa, as Joe Milton led his team to a 13-0 and 20-7 lead in the first half.
Instead, Milton and the offense were blanked in the second half while the Tennessee defense fell to pieces, allowing 27 unanswered points and taking a 34-20 loss, the team's second of the year (to two of its biggest rivals, no less).
But if you thought that would happen without some saltiness and stirring up some controversy, you'd be wrong. Naturally, the refs were at the center of it.
In one of the most awkward post-game press conference moments that you may ever see, Heupel was asked if he believed the officiating was "one-sided" against Alabama. Instead of directly addressing that (and likely incurring a fine), the Tennessee head coach stood in silence for 15+ seconds before saying, "Next question, yeah. Was that a long enough silence?"
Josh Heupel stays silent on 'one-sided' officiating in Tennessee-Alabama, which says it all
The richly ironic part of this, of course, is that Heupel didn't have any complaints about the refs last year in Knoxville while many Crimson Tide fans were highly displeased with what they deemed as game-changing (and possibly wrong) calls.
If there is any leg to stand on for Heupel, it's that there were eight accepted penalties called against Tennessee in the loss on Saturday while Alabama ultimately had just one penalty called against them.
At the same time, though, as the above clip says in the caption, it does feel as if Heupel isn't addressing more direct issues. Particularly in the second half, the Vols play-calling left a lot to be desired, especially in fourth-down situations wherein Heupel was aggressive, but certainly didn't seem to put his best play in the book forward.
No matter the cause, though, Tennessee's second loss of the season and in SEC play puts them almost surely out of contention of making it to Atlanta for the conference championship game. And they'll also be lucky if they're still a Top 25 ranked team after this week.