While some may question the Alabama defense in a 19-14 win over Tennessee, particularly the lightning-quick touchdown drive the Vols had to go ahead of the Crimson Tide late in the fourth quarter, it was all-in-all an effective Bama performance on defense.
True, it was unfortunate that Ronnie Harrison, Reuben Foster, and Minkah Fitzpatrick all dropped easy catches for interceptions, and Fitzpatrick – who had two touchdown returns for touchdowns last week against Texas A&M -- likely would have had a long one had he held onto the ball early in the fourth quarter.
Alabama had only one takeaway in the game, but it was a beautiful way to end the contest Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Bama linebacker Ryan Anderson put a hard tackle on Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs, the ball popped out, and defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson plucked it out of the air. Robinson made a game effort to take it to the end zone, but got tangled up by a Tennessee player on the ground and fell at the four.
Easy enough from there, though, for the Tide to run out the clock.
Anderson was given credit both for a sack and a forced fumble on the play. Also making sacks were linebacker Reuben Foster, defensive end D.J. Pettway, defensive end Jonathan Allen, and Robinson and freshman tackle Daron Payne combining on one.
It was unusual to see Alabama playing a good deal of four-man front against Tennessee, which was respect for the fine tailbacks of the Vols, Jalen Hurd and (former Tide teammate) Alvin Kamara, along with Dobbs, who is both a run and pass threat.
Senior linebacker Reggie Ragland has been a force on the defense. The Tide’s captain in the middle has a team-leading 71 tackles, including 5 for a loss (-18 yards), to go with three pass breakups, three quarterback hurries, two sacks (-8 yards) and two forced fumbles. In six of the eight games during the 2015 season, Ragland led the Alabama defense in stops, including a season-high 12 tackles (8 primary, 4 assists) in the win against Tennessee.
Ragland wasn’t the only inside linebacker with a nice game for the Tide. Junior linebacker Reuben Foster set a career high for tackles game with 11 total (7 primary, 4 assists). His previous career high was seven, which he recorded in last season’s opener against West Virginia.
Fitzpatrick was in on 7 tackles and defensive end Jarran Reed 5. This year Reed ranks second to Ragland with 39 tackles, and has added 3 1/2 tackles for loss (-7 yards), one sack (-3 yards), five quarterback hurries, two pass breakups, and one fumble recovery.
Against the Vols, Ragland, Foster, Reed, Anderson, Robinson, Pettway, Allen, and Payne were all involved in tackles for loss.
Tennessee came into the game averaging 37.2 points and 434.7 yards per game, so the Bama defense held the Vols to over 23 points and over 130 yards below their averages. With UT getting 132 net rushing yards, the Vols were 90 below average. The 171 passing yards by Tennessee was more than 40 below average.