Although it wasn't the last-play situation Alabama faced against Ole Miss in Oxford last week, the stakes were at least as high for Bama when Jamie Christensen lined up for a 35-yard field goal with 18 seconds to play. And just as he had done at Mississippi on a 31-yarder to beat the Rebels 13-10 last year, Christensen nailed the game-winner.
Because 13 seconds remained, there remained the matter of the kickoff (Tennessee shot itself in the foot with a personal foul) and one desperation play (Bama's DeMeco Ryans intercepted the pass to end the game).
Alabama, ranked fifth in the nation going into the game, improved to 7-0 overall and 5-0 in Southeastern Conference games. The Vols, ranked 17th in the nation, dropped to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in SEC games.
Next week is homecoming for Alabama and the Crimson Tide will step out of conference play. Bama will host Utah State at 2 p.m. The only telecast of the game will be on a Pay-Per-View basis.
Tennessee, which has dominated the series for the past decade, went almost exclusively with senior quarterback Rick Clausen. The Vols twice drove inside the Alabama 10-yard line and came out with zero points. The last opportunity for Tennessee came in the final six minutes of the game.
Vols tailback Gerald Riggs had a nice run to the Alabama four-yard line with 6:45 to play, but then Tennessee began to unravel. There was a false start to change the goal-to-go from four yards to nine. Then back-up tailback Arian Foster had an uncharacteristic run for a loss as defensive tackle Jeremy Clark wrapped him up.
On second down, Clausen sprinted right and probably could have run for a few yards at least, but elected to just throw the ball away. Unfortunately for the Vols, Clausen was beyond the line of scrimmage. That's only a five-yard penalty, but it's also loss of down. On third down, the Vols ran a screen play and fullback Cory Anderson had a nice gain, down to about the Tide four. But Anderson was hit by Bama safety Roman Harper, and fumbled out of the end zone.
A fumble out of the end zone is a touchback with the ball going over to the defense at the 20. And so with 5:08 to play, Bama got the ball back with a chance to make an 80-yard, game-winning drive.
It didn't start well with a couple of short runs, but then quarterback Brodie Croyle made an excellent pass on what was otherwise a less than excellent day. And D.J. Hall, who had been injured against Ole Miss but came back to play, made an outstanding catch right in front of the Tennessee bench. The third-and-eight play gained 43 yards to the Tennessee 35.
Kenneth Darby had a couple of first down runs, including an 11-yard run to the Tennessee 11 with 1:53 to play. Bama used three runs to lose three yards (but center the ball in the middle of the field) and both teams used a time out and it was set up for Christensen's second-time-in-two-weeks-heroics.
The game was scoreless until the final play of the third quarter when Christensen was good on a 33-yard field goal. That score was set up by a Tennessee kicking game mistake. Bama had been backed up and Jeremy Schatz kept punting the Tide out. His punt to Lucas Taylor at midfield was fumbled, and DeMeco Ryans recovered for Alabama. A couple of rushes came up just short of a first down, but Tennessee's Jesse Mahelona was guilty of a personal foul, giving Bama a first down at the Tennessee 25. Again, Bama came up just short of a first down and as time ran out on the third quarter, Christensen kicked the first points of the game, a 33-yarder.
It didn't take Tennessee long to tie the game. After poor coverage of the ensuing kickoff enabled Tennessee to start near midfield, the Vols got a big play, Clausen completing a 35-yard pass to Jayson Swain to the 19, the Vols came up just short for a first down at the 10. After taking a delay of game penalty, James Wilhoit was good on a 32-yard field goal.
Christensen had missed on a 50-yard effort late in the first quarter, but that doesn't compare to Tennessee's squandered opportunities. In addition to fouling up the go-ahead chance late in the fourth quarter, the Vols had a first down at the Alabama nine-yard line late in the first quarter. On first down, Riggs was hit by Charlie Peprah and fumbled and Wallace Gilberry recovered for Bama.
On the day, Tennessee lost three of four fumbles (including the touchback), as well as the last play interception. Bama lost one of two fumbles and did not have an interception.