Tough Loss

The defense played well, but couldn't make the final stop it needed. The offense struggled without one of its top receivers, but still made an outstanding play for a go-ahead touchdown to lead going into the fourth quarter. Special teams got two field goals, but has had better days. Bottom line: Alabama wasn't quite good enough in any area in losing to 11th-ranked Tennessee in Knoxville Saturday.

Alabama led most of the game, but surrendered the lead with 3:28 to play as Tennessee completed the scoring in a 16-13 win in front of 106,695. Although Bama led at the end of the first quarter (3-0), at halftime (6-3, and at the end of the third quarter (13-6). Tennessee had the lead only once, but that lead was when it mattered, at the end of the game.

Twice in the fourth quarter Alabama had poor execution in the punting game and the Volunteers took advantage. After the Crimson Tide was called for interference with a punt return man and penalized 15 yards, the Vols were set up at the Alabama 43. Tennessee drove inside the Alabama 10 before the defense stiffened and forced a field goal that cut the Bama lead to 13-9.

Moments later the Tide offense stalled at its own 41. P.J. Fitzgerald had a statistically good day, a career-high nine punts for 371 yards, a 41.2-yard average. But on his eighth punt of the day, he managed only 29 yards. Still, Tennessee was 70 yards from an end zone it hadn't been in all day. The Vols got a crucial first down on a pass interference call, then had some big pass plays to get down to a first and goal at the Alabama 7. On second down Tennessee got inside the one, and on third down Arian Foster dove in for the go-ahead touchdown.

Alabama got the ball back with 3:22 to play, but couldn't move and punted with two minutes to play. Although Bama used its timeouts well to get the ball back with 1:19, the Tide's last gasp effort didn't come close to success, Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson sacked on the final two plays of the game.

With the loss, Alabama fell to 2-3 in Southeastern Conference play and 5-3 overall. Although Alabama leads the all-time series against Tennessee, 44-38-7, the Vols have won 11 of the past 13 meetings after having gone winless from 1986 through 1994. Tennessee, which had an open date before hosting Alabama, is now 6-1 overall and 2-1 in SEC games.

Alabama will host Florida International for Homecoming at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday. The only television will be Pay Per View.

Alabama had an excellent first half against the SEC's top quarterback, Tennessee's Erik Ainge. Simeon Castille had two interceptions, one at the Tennessee goalline, the other one he returned 60 yards to inside the Tennessee 10. Lionel Mitchell had an interception to end the first half. But in the second half, Ainge had very good success. Bama got no more picks and Ainge finished with 300 yards passing.

Pre-game contemplation had it that Kenneth Darby would have to have a good day running for Alabama to be successful. The Tide came very close to success even with Darby unable to make yards against a Tennessee defensive front that defeated the Alabama offensive line most of the day. (Back-up Jimmy Johns had a career-long run of 26 yards and a pass reception for 16 yards, but wasn't used much.)

With Keith Brown held out of the game, Wilson had to rely on D.J. Hall and Will Oakley. Both did well, including Hall making a third quarter play reminiscent of the legendary catch of Tyrone Prothro in last year's Southern Miss game. Wilson tossed one into triple coverage, and Hall was interfered with. But amazingly, Hall caught the ball on the back of Tennessee defender D.J. Heffney for a 40-yard gain to the Tennessee 12-yard line. Hall on a reverse and Darby up the middle picked up the first down at the one. From there Tim Castille in Bama's jumbo package took it in for a touchdown with 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Tennessee had the first scoring opportunity after returning Alabama's first punt of the game for 32 yards to the Alabama 35. The defense held and the Vols' fine placekicker, James Wilhoit, missed a 46-yard field goal attempt.

Alabama had a nice drive to a first and goal, but as has often been the case this year the Tide couldn't punch out a touchdown. The 11-play drive included Wilson hitting passes for nine yards to Hall, eight to Oakley and 12 to Nikita Stover (on a third-and-11 play at the Tennessee 20) and runs of five and 26 yards by Johns. But inside the 10, Darby was held for no gain and Wilson was incomplete on two passes, forcing Jamie Christensen to kick a 24-yard field goal.

Simeon Castille kept the scoring atg 3-0 after one quarter when he intercepted Ainge at the Bama four on a first-and-10 play from the Alabama 19.

Tennessee got a nice march on its first possession of the second quarter, going to a first and goal at the Alabama nine. The Tide defense stiffened and Wilhoit tied the score at 3-3 with a 27-yard field goal.

Castille's second interception of the game came with just over three and a half minutes to play in the first half. He got the ball at the Alabama 32 and raced down the right sidelines, where Ainge forced Castille out of bounds at the eight yard line. Castille being unable to get it into the end zone would prove costly, because the Bama offense couldn't do the job. the golden opportunity was limited to only three points, an 18-yard Christensen field goal. That was kicking on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. It made it 6-3 Alabama at halftime, and those four missed points would be huge later in the game.

Tennessee had another big punt return midway through the third quarter. The Vols forced a punt from the Tide 29 and returned it 29 yards to the Bama 34. Tennessee couldn't get a first down, but did get a 47-yard field goal from Wilhoit to tie the game at 6-6.

After the Hall catch and Tim Castille run gave Alabama a 13-6 lead, it was pretty much all Tennessee for the remainder of the game.

An interference call on an Alabama punt put the Vols at the Alabama 43 and Tennessee pulled to within four points at 13-9 when Wilhoit was good on a 26-yard field goal with 8:18 to play. Bama got one first down, but the Tide used only about a minute and a half of time before punting back to Tennessee. From there the Vols drove to the winning touchdown.


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