Alabama Finishes Job Against Tennessee

Alabama Coach Nick Saban constantly preaches that his team must finish. That should not mean, though, to wait until the last minute. The Crimson Tide had numerous opportunities to finish Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium, but it went to the final moments before it was finally over, a survival against Tennessee in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama got two rushing touchdowns from Derrick Henry, the last coming with 2:24 to play, to defeat Tennessee, 19-14, and keep alive the Crimson Tide’s championship hopes. Bama sewed up the win with 1:18 to play when hard-rushing outside linebacker Ryan Anderson separated Vols quartersback Joshua Dobbs from the ball and Tide nose tackle A’Shawn Robinson caught the ball in midair and returned it nine yards to the Tennessee 4. There was nothing left to do except for Alabama quarterback Jake Coker to take three kneeldowns and the victory.

Alabama, ranked eighth in the nation going into the game, improved to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in Southeastern Conference games. Tennessee fell to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in conference games.

Bama has played eight consecutive games. Alabama has an open date next week. The Crimson Tide returns to action hosting LSU on Nov. 7. Kickoff time and television coverage are to be announced.

No one would suggest that Alabama played its best, but the Crimson Tide was excellent when the game was on the line.

Tennessee had taken a 14-13 lead with 5:49 to play.

The Vols had followed a disappointing field goal drive for Bama, the Tide stalling inside the UT 15 and settling for Adam Griffith’s second field goal of the day, a 28-yard effort that put Bama up by 13-7, certainly uncomfortable. Tennessee was not deterred by its situation, gloing 75 yards in only four plays, the last a 12-yard run by Jalen Hurd in which he was not touched by a Bama defender. The Vols had gotten into scoring range on the strength of Joshua Dobbs passes of 27 yards to Josh Smith and 34 yards to Josh Malone.

(Yes, there is a temptation to say, ‘I’m not joshing you.’)

Alabama did not start its winning drive well with quarterback Jacob Coker having to make fine scramble to lose only two yards. But Coker then found Ardarius Stewart – one of several Tide players who had perhaps their best games – down the sideline. Stewart made a fine catch for a 29-yard gain into Tennessee territory. Derrick Henry had a couple of short runs, and then Coker struck again, finding Calvin Ridley for 15 yards.

Bama then went to Henry. He had runs of six yards over right guard, five yards over left guard for a first down at the Tennessee 14 with under three minutes to play. Henry did not milk the clock. On first down he followed a crushing block by Cameron Robinson and went easily into the end zone.

Leading 19-14, Bama went for two points, but the Coker pass for Ridley was incomplete.

Alabama was not finished, however. There was 2:24 to play, and everyone knows that every team has a two-minute offense.

The Vols started at their 25. Tim Williams led a posse of Tide defenders who corralled Hurd, but Dobbs to Malone got a first down. From the 30, Dobbs was sacked for a 9-yard loss by Jonathan Allen. The Vols took their second timeout with just 1:27 to play. Give the win to Alabama on best timeout adjustment.

Ryan Anderson came off Alabama’s left edge and clobbered Dobbs, who fumbled th e ball into the hands of A'Shawn Robinson at the 11, and Robinson took it down to the 4 where Alabama could go into victory defense and run out the clock.

In the first half, it appeared Alabama’s offensive line had been coached this week by Miguel Gonzalez, the most famous teacher of matadors in all of Mexico. The Crimson Tide was definitely the master of the olé blocks.

Jacob Coker looked more like the quarterback who had never won a starting job in four college seasons than the man who had played so well in key SEC wins over Georgia and Texas A&M, but that just because the statistics go to the quarterback, not the men who are supposed to protect him.

Still, it was 7-7 at halftime, and the Crimson Tide could hope that adjustments – and getting the ball to start the second half – might get things turned around.

Tennessee had missed two field goals, one wide right and one (on the last play of the first half) wide left.

Bama drew first blood with a 9-play, 75-yard drive on its first possession. The drive, which was helped by a defensive holding call on a third-and-5 incomplete pass, got passes of 15 yards to ArDarius Stewart and 13 yards to O.J. Howard and runs of 12 and 20 yards by Derrick Henry, the last one the touchdown run up the middle of the Tennessee defense. Adam Griffith kicked it to 7-0.

Tennessee tied it up with a 10-play, 75-yard drive on its next possession. The Vols, who benefitted from a pass interference call against the Tide, had only two third down plays in the march and converted both, the last one an 11-yard pass from Joshua Dobbs to Josh Smith for the touchdown. Aaron Medley kicked the extra point.

A fierce Tennessee pass rush hurt any chance Alabama had for offensive consistency through the first half with Coker sacked three times and having to throw the ball away a couple of other times.

Even with Henry rushing 9 times for 53 yards in the first half, the Tide total because of lost yardage was 17 carries for 40 yards.

Alabama broke the halftime tie with the only score of the third quarter, a 19 yard field goal after Bama was unable to punch in a touchdown midway through the perioid. The Tide opened the second half with a nice 12-play drive, but it didn’t get the touchdown. Coker completed passes of 11 yards to Calvin Ridley, 13 yards to Richard Mullaney, and 26 yards to Stewart, and Henry had a 12-yard run in the drive that put Alabama first-and-goal at the 8. On first down, Coker connected with O.J. Howard for seven yards. But two runs failed to get the TD and the Tide’s lead going to the fourth quarter was only 10-7.

And it was then and there that Alabama began its winning finish.

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