Alabama had opportunities to take command against Vanderbilt at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday, but twice the Crimson Tide lost fumbles when touchdowns seemed imminent. Bama lost a gamble, too, a fake field goal attempt in the early moments of the game that left the score at 0-0.
With the score tied at 10-10 and just under 13 minutes to play, Bama got its second interception of the game from junior cornerback Simeon Castille. (Castille was actually at nickel back most of the game as for the second consecutive week the Crimson Tide was rarely in its conventional 4-3 defense.)
Quarterback John Parker Wilson hit D.J. Hall for nine yards to get the drive started. He had a seven-yard scramble on third down to get a first down. Kenneth Darby had a mostly disappointing day 21 carries for 65 yards, but he had his best run of the day for 17 yards to move the ball into Vanderbilt territory.
A holding penalty contributed to the Tide facing a third-and-18 at the Alabama 45 when transfer wide receiver Nikita Stover made his first appearance of the year. Stover took a pass over the middle and turned it into a 36-yard gain to the Vandy 19.
That didn't mean things were going to be easy to get the final points.
A two-yard run and an incomplete pass had Bama with third-and-eight at the 17, roughly a 34-yard field goal opportunity. But on that third down play, Wilson was sacked for a 13-yard loss.
Do the math. Freshman Leigh Tiffin now faced a 47-yard attempt. With 7:34 to play, Tiffin knocked it through.
The kick won't go down with the historical significance of one made by Leigh's father, Van Tiffin, in a 25-23 last-play win over Auburn in 1985 when Shula was Bama's quarterback, but it was plenty good enough on the second Saturday of this season 21 years later.
Alabama's defense did the job the rest of the way, including ending the game with the third interception of the game, linebacker Juwan Simpson hauling in the Hail Mary by Commodores quarterback Chris Nickson.
It was the second consecutive week Alabama's opponent had given up an interception on the final play of the game while trying to comeback against Bama.
Alabama improved to 2-0, both wins in sold out (92,138) Bryant-Denny Stadium, while Vanderbilt fell to 0-2. It was the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Alabama continues at home next week, but is out-of-conference hosting Louisiana-Monroe. Kickoff will be at 6 p.m. CDT with the only television coverage on a Pay Per View basis.
It was a come-from-behind win for Alabama as the Commodores took a 10-3 lead just before halftime. Alabama's defense had a second half shutout.
Alabama seemed ready to take a quick lead, but failed to convert on its first possession. Alabama had the wind (as would be the case for Tiffin's fourth quarter kick) when the Tide drove 49 yards to the Vandy 24 (with Wilson hitting Keith Brown on passes of 29 and 16 yards to account for most of the yardage). But rather than kick for the three-point lead, the Tide went for trickery, holder P.J. Fitzgerald running on the fourth-and-nine play. He came up seven yards short and Bama turned the ball over.
The Tide got the ball back quickly and moved down for another chance. This time the decision was made to let Tiffin kick and he gave Bama a 3-0 lead with just under a minute to play in the first quarter.
Simeon Castille picked off a poor Nickson pass and gave Bama the ball at the Alabama 34, but the Tide returned the favor on the next play. Wilson suffered his only interception of the young season when he underthrew a pass at the Vandy 47.
The Commodores took advantage of the chance, moving to the Alabama 24. Bryant Hahnfeldt tied the game with a 42-yard field goal with 10 minutes to play.
Alabama responded with an excellent drive. Excellent to a point, that is. Tim Castille had an eight-yard run for a first down. Wilson had a 10-yard scramble for a first down (and the Commodores had a personal foul on the play), Wilson hit Brown for 11 yards for a first down. And Bama drove to a third and one at the Vandy 14.
Tim Castille, running out of the tailback spot in Alabama's big backs offense, picked up the yardage for the first down, but he didn't hold on to the football long enough. He fumbled it to Vanderbilt at the 13-yard line.
It was something more than salt in the wound when Vandy did more than just breath a sigh of relief at the miraculous stop. The Commodores went on a march. With just under four minutes to play, Vanderbilt began scratching out from the shadow of its goalline. Nickson hit passes of 22 yards and 13 yards and had a run of nine yards. Cassen Jackson-Garrison had a run of 11 yards.
Vanderbilt faced third-and-three at the Alabama six-yard line with 18 seconds to play. Instead of kicking, the Commodores took one shot into the end zone. And it was a shot to the Alabama heart. Earl Bennett slipped between coverage and Nickson drilled the touchdown pass to him with 14 seconds remaining in the first half.
Wilson had an excellent drive to start the second half. The sophomore quarterback completed all five of his pass attempts in a seven-play, 81-yard drive to tie the game at 10-10.
Wide receiver D.J. Hall made his first appearance of the season and took a 31-yard pass from Wilson for the touchdown.
Rashad Johnson, who was headed for MVP of special teams before Tiffin's game-winning kick, forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Cory Reamer recovered for Bama at the Vanderbilt 26. Wilson hit Keith Brown on a 12-yard pass for a first down and three runs put Bama at the Commodores three-yard line, first and goal.
And on first down, Jimmy Johns tried to dive over the top. He left the ball on the ground and Vanderbilt had dodged another bullet.
Vanderbilt would have only one more trip into Alabama territory--to the Tide 36--and that ended with Simeon Castille's second interception of the game at the Alabama 21. From there Bama went on what proved to be its game-winning march.
Alabama killed over four minutes of the game with its final possession. Punter P.J. Fitzgerald did a nice job of punting 41 yards to the Vandy 22, and coverage along the sidelines forced a seven-yard loss, so the Commodores faced an 85-yard field with only 48 seconds to play. Vandy got out of bounds at its 33 with one second to play. On the final gasp, Simpson made the interception at the Alabama 25.