Alabama has benefited from a favorable schedule so far this football season.
That hasn't been more evident than right now.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide won their 88th consecutive contest against an unranked foe late Saturday night inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, turning back Tennessee 35-13 in a game that was tighter than the final score. Alabama played most of the way without junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who sustained a high-ankle sprain in the second quarter and underwent surgery Sunday.
"Our physicians performed a successful tight-rope procedure on his right ankle this morning," Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a released statement. "This is the same injury, but the opposite ankle that Tua injured last season. Tua will miss next week's game against Arkansas, but we expect a full and speedy recovery."
The Tide improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in Southeastern Conference play with their win over the Volunteers (2-5, 1-3). All seven of Alabama's wins have come against teams that are currently unranked, and the Razorbacks will arrive in Tuscaloosa later this week as the only SEC team without a league win.
Arkansas fell to 2-5 overall and 0-4 in league play Saturday with a 51-10 home loss to Auburn, its fourth straight loss to Gus Malzahn's Tigers by more than 30 points. Alabama will try to improve to 13-0 against the Razorbacks under Saban a week after improving to 13-0 against Tennessee.
The Tide opened Sunday as 35-point favorites against Arkansas even without Tagovailoa, and they will have the following Saturday off before hosting No. 2 LSU on Nov. 9. That gives Tagovailoa a three-week window to return for college football's most anticipated game of this regular season, provided LSU defeats No. 9 Auburn this weekend in Baton Rouge.
Tagovailoa, who is 19-0 as a starter in regular-season games, completed 11 of 12 passes for 155 yards against Tennessee. His one misfire was notable, however, as he forced a pass into the end zone midway through the first quarter that was intercepted by Nigel Warrior, who made a 59-yard return to Alabama's 41.
Redshirt sophomore Mac Jones was thrust into action to replace Tagovailoa and finished 6-of-11 for 72 yards.
"When he came in, he was a little bit nervous," junior running back Brian Robinson told reporters. "We had to pick him up, but the more he played, the more he got a little more comfortable in the game and started to make plays. We just have to keep him up and keep him motivated so he can come out strong next week."
Said Saban: "Mac did some good things, and we think Mac is capable, so we have a lot of confidence in Mac. I think the players have confidence in Mac."
Alabama's schedule certainly will toughen in November with showdowns against LSU and Auburn, but Saban said that Tennessee has given the Tide their toughest challenge to this point.
"This was the first time we really had to grind one out and really had to make plays," Saban said. "I think the defense played a lot better except for third down. We had too many opportunities to get off the field on third down, but they were 7-of-15, which kept a lot of their drives alive."
Kicker and punter Will Reichard reinjured his hip, which opened the door for walk-on Ty Perine, who had a successful debut with two punts for a 46.5-yard average. Both are freshmen. Saban improved to 19-0 against former assistants with the win against Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama's defensive coordinator before taking over as Tennessee coach before the 2018 season. Alabama's true freshman inside linebackers kept busy, with Christian Harris amassing a season-high eight tackles and Shane Lee tallying six tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.