The alumni and fans can claim bragging rights for another year. Nick Saban was pleased with the resourcefulness of his team but recited a litany of flaws tempering the celebration.
Let’s carefully examine the results and reasons for feeling good despite a lackluster offensive performance and penalty plagued contest. Every football player can attest to the fourth quarter closing moment situations simulated by a coaching staff to test the resolve of the team. The offense is given the ball on a designated spot on the field and instructed to score. Failure to achieve the stated goal results in at the very least an admonishment from the coach. Conversely the defense is presented with the challenge of stopping the offense and diligently trying to avoid the same scolding if they fail to complete the mission.
Tennessee, trailing by six mounted an impressive four-play, 75 yard drive in 1:19 against the top ranked SEC defense to take a 14-13 fourth quarter lead on a Jalen Hurd 12-yard run at right end with 5:49 remaining. The Alabama offense was placed in a perilous situation. A previous predicament against Ole Miss, down by six, with a chance to forge ahead in the fourth quarter did not end well.
Running back Kenyan Drake returned the Tennessee kickoff 29 yards from the end zone. After a two-yard sack, the fifth of the game by the Volunteers, Tide QB Jacob Coker lofted a 29-yard pass down the sideline to wide receiver Ardarius Stewart. The acrobatic catch was reviewed and the play stood as called. Derrick Henry ran twice for four yards total on first and second down. Facing a third and six on the Vols 40, Coker converted on a 15-yard fade route to wide receiver Calvin Ridley for a first down. Henry powered inside for gains of six and five before scampering around left end for the final 14 yards and the go ahead touchdown. Eight plays, 71 yards in 3:25 was all the offense required to reclaim the scoreboard advantage, 19-14. Coker’s was pressured on the two-point pass attempt and failed to connect.
Although the offense recaptured the lead, the defense was burdened with the task of preserving the five-point margin. Earlier Tide kicker Adam Griffith successfully made his only two field goal attempts (19, 28). He responded by booting the ball into the end zone for a Tennessee touch back with 2:24 showing on the clock, plenty of time for a game winning drive. The Volunteers ran five plays, the last two ended with sacks. Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen burst up the middle to take down Dobbs for a nine-yard loss at the 21. On the next play, linebacker Ryan Anderson sacked the Tennessee QB and caused him to fumble into the waiting arms of defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson. He rambled nine-yards to the Vols four-yard line. Enough points were on the scoreboard for the Tide to call the victory play three times for a minus seven yards as the clock ticked down to zero.
Alabama held the Vols to 132 yards rushing and 171 passing, 90 and 41 below their season averages respectfully. The fourth best offense in the SEC at 434 yards per game fell 131 short finishing with 303. Outstanding running back Jalen Hurd rushed for a solid 92 yards but three shy of his season average on 18 carries and one touchdown. He had a long run of 29-yards in the first half. Accomplished dual-threat QB Dobbs was limited to 19 net yards rushing. The 14-point final total was 23 below their normal output of 37. The nation’s top kick return team averaging 37 yards per attempt was limited to 31 yards on a single return due to four touch backs. JK Scott punted four times. Two were fair caught and one was a touchback. The Bama punt coverage team allowed the Vols a three-yard return. They average 16 plus yards per return and were rated 16th nationally prior to the game. All these subpar totals are reasons Bama came away with a victory.
Twice, the Alabama football team operated in the world of no tomorrow with the season on the line. First, the offense was presented with the task of succeeding on their last possession. Next, the defense was charged with stopping an explosive Tennessee offense. Both performed successfully with grace under pressure to insure a tomorrow in the college football playoff driven atmosphere. Alabama ended the game with three negative victory formation plays but many positives will be celebrated by those witnessing the win over the visiting team in Orange and White.
Everyone Alabama partisan yearns for a Pablo Picasso masterpiece each time the Tide takes the field but even the famous artist fell short of perfection with some of his productions. Same with football teams. Not every game has the coach totally satisfied but the hard fought tightly competitive win will pay dividends down the road. As the years pass and the game is recalled, no one will dwell on the imperfections but legions will savior the glorious moments of the 19-14 come from behind victory played on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Watch and listen as Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban reviews the highs and lows of the Tide’s win over the visiting Volunteers. He holds a 9-0 record against Tennessee during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.