For a game with so much tradition, so many memorable games, Alabama and Tennessee played a somewhat forgettable one Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. True, the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide kept its record clean with a convincing win and there were a handful of highlight plays, but mostly it was ho-hum.
Alabama scored on its first four possessions, and when it failed to score it led to what was perhaps the most memorable moment against Tennessee in the Crimson Tide’ 45-10 win. Bama has now won seven in a row against U-T.
Alabama improved to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in Southeastern Conference play. Tennessee fell to 4-4 overall, including a 1-3 league record.
Alabama is open next week. The Crimson Tide returns to action on Nov. 9 hosting LSU in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game is expected to be the second half of a CBS doubleheader.
Talk about your momentum changes. Just when it looked as if Alabama was going to score touchdowns on its first five possessions, Kenyan Drake lost a fumble at the Tennessee goalline. No problem. The Tide would score on its first four possessions and on Tennessee’s fifth for a 35-0 halftime lead.
In fact, Alabama had 292 yards of offense in the first half. The most the Crimson Tide could have had was 294 since Drake’s fumble came at the two-yard line.
Alabama dominated statistically. The Tide had 26 first downs to 14 for the Vols. Bama had 37 rushes for 204 yards, Tennessee 28 carries for 127 yards. Alabama completed 19 of 28 passes for 275 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (all but one incompletion by A.J. McCarron) while UT’s quarterbacks managed 13-28 for 195 yards, but suffering two interceptions. Bama’s total offense was 65 plays for 479 yards, Tennessee’s 56 plays for 322 yards.
Alabama was good on 7-11 third down conversion tries (and 1-1 on a fourth down play), while the Vols were 3-12 on third downs, 1-2 on fourth. Alabama had about an 8-minute advantage in time of possession against Tennessee’s no huddle offense. Both teams fumbled once, but Alabama lost its fumble, Tennessee retained its bobble.
Drake led Alabama in rushing with 14 carries for 89 yards. T.J. Yeldon had 15 runs for 72 yards and scored three touchdowns. Tennessee was led by Rajion Neal with 13 carries for 70 yards.
Kevin Norwood led Bama in receiving with six catches for 112 yards and one touchdown. Amari Cooper had five receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown. Marquez North was the leading receiver for the Vols with four catches for 87 yards.
Christion Jones had two kickoff returns for 106 yards.
Landon Collins led Bama defensively with 6 tackles (5 primary) and – oh, yeah – an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown. A’Shawn Robinson, a freshman who started in place of Brandon Ivory at nose tackle, was in on six tackles and Trey DePriest on five. Deion Belue also had an interception.
Although it may have seemed Alabama opened the game in two-minute drill, it was mere circumstance that the game was only a minute and 28 seconds old when it was 7-0. And Bama had to overcome a major distance penalty to accomplish the feat. After Christion Jones returned the opening kickoff 49 yards, Bama had a short run, a nice pass shortened considerably by a block in the back, and then AJ McCarron made a quick pass to Amari Cooper on the right side. Cooper went down the sideline for the touchdown. Cade Foster, who would have a slight injury and sit out the second half, kicked the extra point.
Alabama forced a three-and-out and Christion Jones returned the punt 17 yards to the Tide’s 34. That 66-yard march took only seven plays. McCarron had 18-yard pass completions to DeAndrew White and Kevin Norwood and after a personal foul penalty on the Vols, Yeldon finished off the touchdown drive with three consecutive runs, the last from a yard out, and a 14-0 lead.
The Vols drove deep into Bama territory on the strength of a 38-yard pass from starting quarterback Justin Worley to North. However, the drive stalled at the Alabama 34.
Bama’s third possession was more of the same, only longer, taking most of the rest of the first quarter (5:34) and 12 plays. McCarron had passes of 9 yards to Kenny Bell and 11 yards to White and Drake had a pair of 11 yard runs. Facing third and nine at the Tennessee 21, McCarron found Norwood for the touchdown and a 21-0 first quarter lead.
The Bama defense held again and the Tide started its second quarter work from its 19. It took nine plays to go the 81 yards. McCarron had passes of 16 to Norwood and 14 to Cooper before the Tide tried a reverse with Jones running. It was a dismal failure…for a moment. Jones was running left to right, and ran into mostly orange. He reversed field, picked up some blocks, and ended up with a 20-yard gain to the 20. McCarron completed a 13-yard pass to Norwood and three plays later Yeldon had his second rushing touchdown and Bama had a 28-0 advantage.
It was surely going to be 35-0 after Deion Belue’s interception and 27-yard return to the Vols’ 33. But the Tide failed to earn a first down in three tries. On fourth-and-one, Drake ripped off an eight-yard gain to the 16. He gained five on first down and had it down to the goalline on second down, but fumbled.
The Vols finally had stopped the Tide. And the fumble recovery seemed to invigorate the visitors as Tennessee drove from its 2 to the Alabama 24. But on a second and 10 with just 29 seconds remaining before halftime, Worley’s pass was intercepted by safety Landon Collins.
Collins made a nice maneuver to stay in bounds, then took off down the Alabama sideline. He held up long enough to let defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan get in front of him and deliver a hard block on Worley. Collins crossed the goalline with 12 seconds remaining before the Tide would take a 35-0 lead to intermission.
The second half would be a 10-10 tie.
Tennessee opened the second half with a new quarterback, Joshua Dobbs, and he took the Vols to the Alabama 20 on the strength of a 43-yard run by Neal to the Alabama 25. When the drive stalled. Michael Palardy kicked a 37-yard field goal.
Alabama seem to answer that with a touchdown drive, which wasn’t much of a drive thanks to Jones’s 57-yard return of the kickoff. But McCarron’s 40-yard pass to Cooper was waived off on an offensive pass interference call. That led to one of two Cody Mandell punts – giving him a total of five for the month of October.
Instead, Alabama would have to make a long drive after Tennessee punted the Tide down at the Bama 2. Job one was to get off the goalline and the Tide tried a simple dive play. Yeldon, however, bounced off the line and outside and went 24 yards for a first down. Two plays later Yeldon took a screen pass from McCarron for 23 yards. Drake ran for 11. On a broken play, McCarron scrambled out, directed traffic for a moment, and then threw to Norwood, who made a fantastic catch at the Tennessee six.
Three plays later Yeldon had his third touchdown, Adam Griffith had replaced Foster and kicked his first extra point of the game, and the Tide had a 42-3 lead, which was the score at the end of the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Tennessee completed a nine-play, 55-yard drive (the big one a 29-yard pass to North) with Neal going up the middle from three yards out.
Alabama completed the scoring in the game when the Tide came up short on a third-and-goal from the three. Griffith came on to kick a 20-yard field goal and Alabama had prevailed, 45-10.