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Henry To'oTo'o and Alabama have a Message for Not Just Tennessee, but All of College Football

After losing 52-49 at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night, To'oTo'o relayed a message to his former team.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In a crowded media room deep inside Neyland Stadium, Alabama linebacker Henry To'oTo'o took time to meet with reporters.

With the chants of the rowdy Tennessee faithful echoing into the room through the several layers of concrete and steel providing separation, the disappointed Crimson Tide defender was forced to take questions despite the somber sadness that he had brought with him from the Alabama locker room.

For the first time in a long time, it was not full of cigar smoke.

Mere moments before, the No. 6 Volunteers upset the No. 3 Crimson Tide with a last-second field goal to secure the 52-49 win. With the victory marking the first over Alabama since 2006, a win wasn't the only thing that fans took home: after storming the field, Volunteers fans tore down both goal posts, with one making its way out into the streets to be paraded around downtown Knoxville.

None of that concerned To'oTo'o, who was teary-eyed and visibly upset at the outcome of the game.

"Congratulations to them," To'oTo'o said. "They played hard. We didn't execute. Shot ourselves in the foot the whole game and just gotta clean it up."

Alabama is no stranger to last-second losses. Last season, the Crimson Tide stood by helplessly as Texas A&M stuck a 28-yard dagger into the hearts of Alabama, handing them their first loss of 2021. With the loss to Tennessee this season, the circumstances were eerily similar.

To To'oTo'o, though, this one hurt a little bit more.

In his first two seasons of college football, To'oTo'o himself was on the other side of the rivalry. With the Volunteers, he was named to the All-SEC freshman team. His second year, he led Tennessee in tackles.

Both times he had lost to Alabama, but 2021 did bring some comfort. While his first game in Bryant-Denny Stadium was a loss to the Crimson Tide, his second was a 52-24 win. This week, To'oTo'o was hopeful to repeat that outcome, this time at Neyland.

Heading into the game, To'oTo'o's former relationship with Tennessee was one of the most-discussed topics heading into the game. On Alabama's side, fans were wanting to see To'oTo'o pick up a win against the Volunteers. For Tennessee fans, well, you can let the signs from ESPN's College GameDay speak for themselves.

While Alabama fans were hopeful, a win simply wasn't meant to be.

"They got playmakers," To'oTo'o said of Tennessee. "They do a great job of getting the playmakers the ball and getting them in space where they want them. So they found a great way to get them the ball."

To'oTo'o was right. Tennessee certainly has a lot of playmakers. Between stellar quarterback Hendon Hooker, talented wide receivers like Jalin Hyatt and running backs Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small, that's quite a list. 

But playmakers weren't the reason that the Crimson Tide lost. At least, not in To'oTo'o's eyes.

Along with penalties being a gruesome affair that repeatedly shot Alabama in the foot all throughout the game, lackluster defense — particularly against the pass — gave Tennessee all the help it needed. And to be fair, it didn't need much.

In total, the Crimson Tide surrendered 385 passing yards to Hooker and the Volunteers, as well as gave up 182 rushing yards. On the game, Alabama only recorded two tackles for loss, with one of those being a sack.

After giving up back-to-back plays of 18 and 27 yards to put the Volunteers in the situation it needed to kick the game-winning field goal, all of those yards add up.

When asked what his team needs to do to get better, To'oTo'o was hardly specific.

"Everywhere," To'oTo'o said. "All across the board. Up front, the linebackers, in the back end — everybody. We've all gotta improve if we wanna achieve the goals that we want.

"[...] Just covering more, trying to get everybody on the same page. And just being more aggressive, trying to get all 11 guys on the same page was the biggest thing."

For both Alabama and Tennessee, this season is far from over. While the Crimson Tide might have been handed its first loss of the year, it's still undefeated in division play and can capture the SEC West by wining out. 

And To'oTo'o is very aware of that.

"The season's not done," To'oTo'o said. "We got a long season left. We'll see them."

Alabama hosts Mississippi State next weekend, a team that will help them secure the spot as the second-place team in the SEC West should the Crimson Tide prevail. After a bye week, a trip to a solid LSU team followed by a road game at Ole Miss will give Alabama everything it needs to finish the season as the top-ranked team in the division.

That is, if they win all of those games.

The slope is certainly more slippery after Saturday night's loss, but the season is far from over. Should the Crimson Tide win out, they will make the trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

And right now, either the Georgia Bulldogs or a rematch with Tennessee would almost certainly be the opponent. Those teams face each other on Nov. 5. But if the Volunteers bring the same attitude to Athens, Ga. that they brought to Knoxville on Saturday night, it might be an orange and white team that the Crimson Tide will meet.

Remember that last-second field goal loss at Texas A&M last season? How much did that affect the outcome of the season? Not much, and that loss was to an SEC West opponent.

And if Alabama does have to face Tennessee again? Well, To'oTo'o and his defense will not underestimate them at all.

While the loss to Tennessee arguably stung To'oTo'o more than any of his career thus far, make no mistake: he has a message for the Volunteers.

"We'll see them again," To'oTo'o said. "We'll see them again."

And with that answer, the sadness in his eyes turned to pure determination, which should worry all of college football.

See Also:

Walsh: Tennessee's 52-49 Clutch Win Spoils Bryce Young Treat in Third Saturday in October

No. 6 Tennessee Takes Down No. 3 Alabama in High-Flying Shootout, 52-49

Offense Not the Issue for Alabama in Loss to Tennessee

Nick Saban Explains Alabama Playcalling on Final Drive

Alabama Secondary Outmatched By Tennessee Pass Attack

Instant Analysis: No. 6 Tennessee 52, No. 3 Alabama 49

Everything Nick Saban Said After Alabama's 52-49 Loss at Tennessee

"I Smoked it Slow, but it was Dang Good:" What Tennessee Said After 52-49 Win Over Alabama

Notebook: Alabama Penalties Against Tennessee an Issue Of Historical Proportions

From Sports Illustrated

Smoked ’Em: Tennessee Has Celebration for the Ages After Ending Its Alabama Heartache

Heupel After Alabama Upset: ‘Everybody’s Lighting a Cigar Tonight’

CFB World Goes Wild As Tennessee Beats Nick Saban, Alabama

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