The game marked the return to Tennessee of Alabama’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach/play-caller Lane Kiffin. He was not greeted warmly since the former head coach of the Vols had left Tennessee for the same job at USC. Now he’s at Bama, UT’s biggest rival.
From Bama’s first offensive snap, which was an 80-yard touchdown pass from Blake Sims to Amari Cooper, until Sims took a knee and victory almost three and a half hours later, Bama moved the football. In addition to the 34 points, Alabama had 23 first downs, 183 yards rushing, and 286 yards passing for 469 yards.
The bad news was two lost fumbles, a return to the penalty box – 6 flags for 50 yards – and a porous defense.
The Crimson Tide improved to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in Southeastern Conference games. The Vols fell to 3-5 and UT is winless in four conference games.
Alabama has an open date next weekend and returns to action Nov. 8 at LSU.
It was primarily the Amari Cooper show for Alabama in the first half. He finished the game with nine receptions for a Bama record 224 yards and two touchdowns. He had six catches for 194 yards at halftime.
Sims completed 14 of 24 passes for 286 yards, which certainly is satisfactory, but Sims also missed on several throws. Sims also had a 28-yard touchdown run among his 42 net rushing yards.
In addition to Cooper, DeAndrew White had four catches for 59 yards.
The bad news for Alabama was primarily on defense. Tennessee starting quarterback Justin Worley was out of action with a shoulder injury. The starter against Bama was Nathan Peterman, but he soon gave way to Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs had a very good game for the home team, completing 19-32 passes for 192 yrds and two touchdowns and rushing 19 times for 75 yards.
Tennessee equaled the Alabama ground output, Bama 41 carries for 183 net yards, Tennessee 43 runs for 181. Bama had 23 first downs, UT 21.
Alabama had 469 yards of total offense on 65 plays and a 7.2 yards per play average, while the Vols had 79 plays for 383 yards, 4.8 per play.
Alabama was 11-15 on third down conversions, but gave up 11-19 third down successes to Tennessee.
Defensively, Reggie Ragland led the Tide in tackles with nine, including being in on two tackles for loss. He also caused a fumble and broke up a pass. Nick Perry had eight primary tackles. A’Shawn Robinson was in on seven tackles and Trey DePriest on six. Eddie Jackson had four tackles and a fumble recovery. Xzavier Dickson and Da’Shawn Hand had sacks. Cyrus Jones had an interception.
Tennessee had about a one minute advantage in time of possession.
Things could not have started better for Alabama, and particularly for Kiffin, than the Tide’s first “drive.” With Bama at its 20, Cooper was flanked to the left, went in motion to the right. He took a swing pass from Sims and went down the right sideline 80 yards for the score, a 1-play, 13-second play. After a false start, though, Adam Griffith missed the extra point kick, leaving Bama leading 6-0.
The Tide also scored on its next two possessions, and three of its next four to take a 27-0 lead.
The Sims-to-Cooper connection worked for 41 yards to give Alabama a 13-0 lead. The Tide drove 79 yards in seven plays with Sims hitting Cooper on third down plays of 13 and 21 yards before the touchdown. The drive took 2:09.
Still in the first quarter, Bama forced a three-and-out and punt. Although Cyrus Jones made the fair catch at the 10, Alabama was able to start from its 25 after a personal foul penalty on the Vols.
Yeldon had a 15-yard run and Sims connected on back-to-back passes to DeAndrew White for 25 yards before Sims went back to Cooper on a 30-yard pass play to the Tennessee 1. Cooper made a diving catch on the ball. Three plays later, including a short run by Yeldon on which he fumbled but got the ball back, Yeldon went in from a yard out to make it 20-0. Bama had taken nine plays and 3:51 to go 75 yards.
Bama’s first offense had its first non-scoring drive in at least 11 possessions going back to the 59-0 win over Texas A&M last week, but early in the second half Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs was hit by Tide linebacker Reggie Ragland and fumbled. Alabama’s Eddie Jackson scooped it up at the 35 and ran it to the 19. Even though the Tide was hit with a personal foul penalty, Bama was in business at the Tennessee 34. An overthrown pass and six-yard Yeldon run was followed by a Sims keeper at right tackle. He broke through the final group of tacklers – including his old Gainesville (Ga.) High teammate, Tennessee starting linebacker A.J. Johnson – and went in on the 28-yard run. Bama had a 27-0 lead.
That was all the good news for the Tide in the first half.
Dobbs drove the Vols to a touchdown and a field goal to close the Bama lead to 27-10 at intermission.
Dobbs kept the drive alive with a 28-yard pass to Pig Howard to the Alabama 49. Tailback Marlin Lane went around right end for 44 yards to the five. Two plays later it was third-and-goal at the nine, but the Tide defense couldn’t hold as Dobbs passed to Malone for the touchdown. Aaron Medley kicked the extra point with 7:03 left in the second quarter. The Vols had gone 84 yards in 10 plays.
Alabama had a miserable offensive possession and had to give the ball back to Tennessee with a punt to the Tennessee 31. Only 3:53 remained in the half and the Vols used it all to drive to a Medley field goal as time ran out and close the lead to 27-10 at halftime.
Alabama was to get the kickoff to start the second half, but the Tide did not capitalize. Moreover, after a punt to Tennessee, the Vols went 84 yards in 15 plays with Dobbs completing third down passes twice and scrambling once for first downs. On third-and-goal from the nine, he completed a pass to Von Pearson for the touchdown. The Vols had pulled to within 27-17.
Bama had seemingly lost momentum.
But Sims led a nice touchdown drive. Although the Tide had second-and-10 three times, the Tide was able to convert on third downs four times, including a fine scramble by Sims for nine yards on a third-and-nine. A pass to Cooper gained nine for a first down at the Vols’ 28. On first down, Henry went off right tackle, then down the right sidelines untouched for a touchdown with 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Bama had gone 76 yards in 13 plays for a 34-17 lead.
Tennessee’s next possession was a three-and-out, but Bama couldn’t deliver the knockout punch.
And then a swap of turnovers benefited Tennessee. Cyrus Jones intercepted for Alabama at the Alabama 30. But after a false start, a mishandle between Sims and Henry was reovered by the Vols at the Tide 23.
Bama was able to hold the Vols to a field goal, cutting the Tide lead to 34-20 with 9:42 remaining in the game.
Although Alabama’s next possession had an unfortunate conclusion, on balance it sealed the deal. Sims took the Tide on a 13-play drive that drained more than seven of the nine remaining minutes in the game. On a first-and-15 from the Tennessee 22, Jalston Fowler appeared to have locked it up with a burst up the middle. He was hit just short of the goalline, though, and fumbled, turning the ball over to Tennessee at the Vols 1 with 2:29 remaining.
Although Tennessee picked up a few first downs, the game ended when Dobbs was caught by Da’Shawn Hand at the Vols 32 with 16 seconds to play.