Tide's Defensive Effort Not Enough

A mistake that Alabama couldn't afford against the 11th-ranked Tennessee Vols happened less than a minute into the game, taking the luster off of a masterful defensive performance by Alabama and giving Tennessee a 17-13 victory at Neyland Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Alabama dropped to 5-3 overall (2-3 Southeastern Conference) while Tennessee improved its record to 6-1 overall (4-1 SEC).

Alabama needed a touchdown late in the fourth quarter after taking over at its own 28 yard-line, trailing by four with just 4:21 left in the game. Quarterback Spencer Pennington hit Tyrone Prothro for 15 yards on the first play of the final drive, and then Kenneth Darby carried three consecutive times: for a loss of three, a gain of 10, and another loss of three that brought up a fourth-and-6 play from Alabama's 47.

Pennington threw incomplete on fourth down, but a Tennessee roughing-the-passer penalty gave Alabama one more chance. Tim Castille was hit in the backfield after a catch on the next play, injuring his knee on the play. Pennington's next throw sailed past Keith Brown on second-and-12, into the hands of Tennessee safety Corey Campbell, whose interception sealed the game.

A fumbled exchange between Pennington and Darby put Alabama in an early hole in the game's second play from scrimmage, as Vol defensive tackle Turk McBride burst through the line, grabbing Pennington to disrupt the handoff. The ball was scooped up by Parys Haralson and taken in 18 yards for the first score of the game, just 45 seconds into the first quarter.

"The second play of the game a miscommunication results in a fumble (on) a play we run a lot, and run well a lot," Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said. "They got the ball in the end zone, but we still felt like we could move it. I think we felt like if we could just keep hammering away it could be our kind of day."

The fumble and eight-yard loss was officially charged to Pennington, but a mental mistake in the offensive blocking assignments was to blame. Shula did not elaborate on the miscommunication.

Alabama managed the early gaff, however. The Tide defense allowed just one yard of net offense in the first quarter.

DeMeco Ryans' interception flipped the field position in Bama's favor in the first quarter, setting the Tide up at the UT 44-yard line, leading to Alabama's first scoring drive. An accurate Erik Ainge flat pass to Tony Brown was bobbled on the play, sending the ball in the air for Ryans, who dove and caught it just before the ball hit the ground.

Alabama's first 10 points came in an eight-minute span at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second. Bama's five-play, 44-yard touchdown drive was highlighted by a 22-yard Pennington floater to a wide-open Tyrone Prothro, and was capped by a two-yard touchdown run by Tim Castille.

After the ensuing kickoff, Tennessee began at their own 22 yard-line, but was forced to punt from their own nine after three plays. Brian Bostick's 34-yard field goal score capped a 12-play, five minute and 47 second drive covering 43 yards, leaving a 14-10 Tennessee lead at the half.

The Vols' only offensive touchdown was set up by a 45-yard punt return by Derrick Tinsley, which put Tennessee in business at the Tide's 29 yard line. Tinsley avoided Zeke Knight, who overran the play, and Tinsley had open field ahead.

Two Erik Ainge-to-Jayson Swain-completions, one for 10 yards and the other for a 19-yard touchdown pass, gave Tennessee a 14-10 advantage, and put the Vols in the lead for good with 6:40 remaining in the first half. Swain finished the day with five catches for 80 yards.

Tennessee's 54 yards rushing in the second half seemed like an offensive outbreak, but only because the Tide defense held Tennessee to nine rushing yards in the first half of play.

Tennessee scored their final points on a 40-yard field goal by James Wilhoit, ending an eight-play, 57-yard drive, with the biggest chunk of the yardage coming on a 37-yard reception by Swain on a second-and-one play that took the Vols to the Bama 25 yard-line.

Tennessee threatened to extend its lead to two scores in the third quarter with a 14-play, 80 yard drive, but the drive stalled when Cornelius Wortham intercepted an Ainge pass on a third-and-one play from the Bama four-yard line. Alabama took over on the two and drove out of their end zone, punting back to UT from its own 39 yard-line.

After a Tennessee punt on the next series, Alabama took over at its own 34, and drove the ball inside the Tennessee 20, but the Tide had to settle for a field goal, the game's final score, after a Pennington sack put Alabama in a second-and-25 hole.

Tennessee had virtually no success moving the ball on the ground, totaling just 63 rushing yards on 34 attempts in the game. The Vols were slightly more competent throwing the ball, completing 10-of-22 attempts for 132 yards. Alabama picked off Ainge twice in the game. Gerald Riggs' 39 yards on 19 carries led Tennessee's rushing.

"Our defense played pretty well and came up with a lot of plays," Shula said. "We just fell short and didn't do a good enough job offensively with our production."

"The effort has been great and I think our defense continues to improve - we continue to find out that they're pretty good," he said. "There are a bunch of disappointing guys in (the locker room). We just have to get through it and be better because of it."

Alabama totaled 218 yards in the game, 105 on 39 rushing attempts, and 113 passing yards on 14-of-28 passing. Spencer Pennington was 14-of-28 passing for 113 with one interception. Kenneth Darby was the game's leading rusher with 99 yards on 25 carries.

Alabama is off next week, and will resume play in two weeks hosting Mississippi State.

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