Game Tide still falls short

For want of a nail, or at least about the length of a nail, the game was lost. Too many times the Alabama offense couldn't muster short yardage, and the result was a most disappointing 51-43 loss to Tennessee Saturday.

It took Alabama five overtimes to suffer this latest loss in a season that has now spiraled towards bottom. Although the Tide scored pretty well in overtime – regulation ended at 20-20 – there was never the feeling that Alabama would make the plays to win the game.

It was Alabama's second overtime loss of the year in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Earlier this year Alabama fell to Arkansas, 34-31, in double overtime.

Alabama now limps into its one open date of the year. Bama will be back in action on November 8 at Mississippi State in a battle of what are considered to be the two weakest teams in the Southeastern Conference. With the loss to Tennessee, Alabama falls to 3-6 on the year and 1-4 in SEC games.

Naturally in a game that goes five overtimes there will be dozens of places where Alabama coaches will find where one play would have made the difference in the outcome. It could have been when Tennessee faced fourth and 19 in the second overtime and the Tide secondary was nowhere to be found on a 28 yard pass. It could have been a personal foul at the end of the first half that enabled Tennessee to start the second period with excellent field position and march to a quick touchdown. It could have been when the defense couldn't hold the Vols at the end of regulation. Alabama had a 20-13 lead with less than two minutes remaining and Tennessee at its own 14 yard line, and the Vols marched to a tying score.

Alabama's kicking game also had its usual miscues and gets some of the blame. Although Brian Bostick is listed as the man who missed a potential game-winning field goal with four seconds remaining and another one earlier in the game that could have been the difference, on the early one the hold was bad and on the last chance one the snap was high.

But most will put this loss on the offense. Twice Bama had first and goal inside the Tennessee five-yard line and failed to get any points. Zero. And with just over two minutes to play and Alabama with a first-and-two at its 35-yard line, the Tide came up inches short, failing to muster the first down that would probably have meant victory.

It was somehow fitting that Alabama's final possession in the fifth overtime had the Tide facing second and one at the Tennessee 16 and Bama's offense unable to convert the first down to have a chance at victory. Although the final play of the game was a dubious one-chance-only fade pass that was broken up, Tide Head Coach Mike Shula probably had seen his offensive line whipped and his running backs stopped short too many times to try another run.

The winning score in the fifth overtime came on a one-yard quarterback sneak by the Vols' Casey Clausen. Clausen had scrambled to a first down at the one on a fourth down play from the Bama four. By rule, each touchdown after the second overtime had to be followed by a two-point conversion try. Clausen hit James Banks on the two-point try to make the score 51-43 with Bama getting its final opportunity. Ray Hudson, who had one of his best games with 14 carries for 71 yards, got nine yards on first down. But two runs at left guard lost a yard. On fourth down Bama quarterback Brodie Croyle tried to hit Dre Fulgham on a fade route to the end zone, but the pass was knocked down , ending the game.

Alabama recovered three Tennessee first quarter fumbles, but the offense was able to turn those opportunities into only three points, a 33-yard Bostick field goal. That gave Alabama lead for most of the first half. The Vols scored a field goal with just 48 seconds to play in the second half. But after the kickoff, Shaud Williams ran 44 yards to the Tennessee 30 and with 13 seconds to play Bostick kicked Bama to a 6-3 lead with a 48-yard field goal.

Tennessee ran only one play before intermission, but it was hardly meaningless. That's because a Bama defender was flagged for a personal foul. That meant a 15-yard penalty against Alabama on the opening kickoff of the second half, good field position for the Vols, and a quick 25-yard touchdown run by Banks to give Tennessee a 10-6 lead. Later in the quarter the Vols took a 13-6 lead with a field goal.

Bama tied the game quickly. Bama went 65 yards in seven plays with Croyle hitting Triandos Luke on a 36-yard touchdown pass. Then with just 4:47 to play Hudson scored his first rushing touchdown (indeed, the first rushing touchdown by any Alabama player this year other than Shaud Williams). Hudson's two-yard run capped a five-play, 55-yard drive. Then the Alabama defense held and Alabama got the ball at its own 26 with 3:17 to play. Hudson broke an 18-yard run on first down, but an Alabama receiver was flagged for holding, knocking 10 yards off the run, leaving first and two at the Alabama 34. Amazingly, Alabama ran three times, Tennessee burned all its timeouts, and Bama still didn't get the first down that would have enabled Bama to run out the clock. With less than two minutes to play the Tide punted the ball to Tennessee. The Vols went the 86 yards in only eight plays.

Because of a great kickoff return by freshman Tyrone Prothro, setting Bama up at Tennessee's 31-yard line, Bama had one final shot at victory in regulation. But Bostick didn't have a chance on his 45-yard field goal after a high snap.

Alabama will certainly look back at two trips inside the Tennessee five-yard line in which Bama got no points. On the first trip, Bama holder Gabe Giardino had trouble getting the ball set up and the kick was blocked. On the second trip, from the one-yard line, Bama tried a third down pass that was incomplete. Rather than kick a field goal, Alabama ran for the touchdown and was stopped short.

In the first overtime, quarterbacks Clausen and Croyle swapped six-yard touchdown passes, Clausen hitting Derrick Tinsley, Croyle connecting with Fulgham on a fourth down play.

In the second overtime, Alabama had its best chance to win after freshman fullback Tim Castille had his first touchdown, a 12-yard run that gave Bama a 34-27 lead. But Clausen, facing fourth-and-19 from the 34, hit a wide open C.J. Payton for 29 yards, setting up a five-yard Clausen pass to Banks.

In the third overtime Clausen hit Banks on a 25-yard pass on first down, but the two-point conversion pass was incomplete. Croyle got a pass to Hudson on a third-and-13 that some nifty running by Hudson turned into a 16-yard gain, and on the next play Williams went 12 yards for the touchdown. A successful two-point conversion would have given Alabama a 42-40 win, but Croyle's pass was intercepted by Jabari Greer.

Both teams settled for field goals in the fourth overtime, a 28-yarder by Bostick and a 25-yarder by Tennessee's James Wilhoit.

Alabama had an astounding 99 plays in the game. The statistics were as close as might be expected in a five-overtime game. Alabama had 27 first downs (12 rushing, 11 pass, four by penalty), Tennessee 24 (10 rush, 13 pass, 1 penalty). Alabama had 61 rushes for 258 yards, Tennessee 41 runs for 209 yards. Croyle completed 21 of 38 passes with one interception for 215 yards, Clausen 23 of 43 with no interceptions for 283 yards. Bama's 99 plays netted 473 yards, 4.8 yards per play, while the Vols had 84 plays for 492 yards, 5.9 yards per play. Both teams were penalized seven times, Tennessee for 57 yards, Alabama for 58 yards.

Williams had 40 carries for 166 yards. Castille had five catches for 31 yards. Zach Fletcher had only one catch, but it was for the most yardage of any Bama receiver, 51 yards.

In the anticipated "Battle of the Punters," it was pretty much a dead heat. Both Tennessee's Dustin Colquitt and Bama's Bo Freeland had six punts. Colquitt had a little more yardage, 284, foir a 47.3 average, to Freeland's 249 yards, 41.5 average, but Freeland put two inside the 20 and had no touchbacks, while Colquitt put two in the end zone and only one inside the 20.

Tide safety Charles Jones was in on 15 tackles (13 primary) and caused a fumble, while linebacker DeMeco Ryans had 10 primary stops, three assists, two tackles for losses, and recovered a fumble. Juwan Garth caused one fumble and recoveries were made by Anthony Madison and Roberto McBride.

Alabama was hindered because of injuries. The Tide lost two starting offensive linemen, tackle Wesley Britt very early to what appeared to be a broken leg (his place was taken by Atlas Herrion) and guard Dennis Alexander late in the game (his place taken by Danny Martz). It had earlier been determined that Bama would not have the services of tailback Kenneth Darby, who has a shoulder injury. And Clint Johnston, who has started both at fullback and tight end, was not dressed for the game because of an injury.

Although Matt Lomax got the starting job at center, J.B. Closner got most of the playing time, including the overtime action. Defensive back David Scott seemed to have won a battlefield position. In Alabama's first situation facing a Tennessee passing situation, Scott wsas inserted as the nickel back, replacing Ramzee Robinson. Not too late in the game Scott took over at right cornerback for Anthony Madison. Scott had several key defensive plays in the game. Derrick Pope returned to the starting lineup at strongside linebacker.

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