Tide Rolls Over Tennessee, 41-17
Alabama dominated Tennessee in the second half and romped to a 41-17 win over the Vols in Tuscaloosa's Bryant-Denny Stadium on the third Saturday in October.
Alabama improved its record to 6-2, making Bama bowl eligible, and the Crimson Tide is now 4-1 in Southeastern Conference games and tied for the lead in the SEC Western Division. Tennessee fell to 4-3. The Vols are now 2-2 in SEC games.
Alabama now has an open date before what is likely to be en emotional game against LSU on November 3. That game from Bryant-Denny Stadium is almost certain to be a CBS telecast with kickoff at 4 p.m. central time. Nick Saban previously coached at LSU and his hiring by Alabama stirred the easily-stirred emotions in Louisianans.
No one expected Alabama vs. Tennessee to be a defensive struggle. The only time those two words are used in the same sentence with either team is mentioning the struggles both defenses have had this year. But offensive fireworks notwithstanding, the Alabama defense stood tall in the win as Bama shut out the potent Tennessee offense in the second half.
The first of freshman cornerback Kareem Jackson's two interceptions stopped the Vols when Tennessee was driving for a potential tying touchdown in the third quarter. Bama took advantage of that for a little breathing room, one of Leigh Tiffin's four field goals.
Alabama had shocking news just prior to the game when it was announced that five players, including three key offensive players, had been suspended for the game. They are offensive line starters Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis and tailback Glen Coffee. Also suspended and absent from the game were defensive backs/special teams players Chris Rogers and Marquis Johnson.
Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson had an exceptional game, completing 32 of 46 passes for 363 yards with no interceptions and three touchdowns. Bama's record-setting career D.J. Hall set another one Saturday as he had a Bama-best 13 receptions in the game. His 13 catches were good for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson and Hall also combined for a two-point conversion that is not included in official statistics.
Terry Grant scored Alabama's lone second half touchdown, an eight-yard run, and the freshman tailback finished with 26 carries for 104 yards.
Sometimes time of possession is a meaningless statistic. Saban thought that Alabama having the ball for 37:38 to Tennessee's 22:22 was key.
It was no surprise that when Tennessee won the toss, the Vols wanted the football first. It was a surprise--though perhaps not in hindsight--that Alabama decided possession of the ball was valuable enough to start the game with an onsides kick.
Tennessee was certainly surprised. Demarcus Waldrop had no trouble scooping up Leigh Tiffin's kick in front of the Tennessee bench at the Alabama 43.
Alabama made a nice drive to the Tennessee 22, but couldn't get another first down and had to settle for Tiffin's 39-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead just 1:55 into the game.
John Parker Wilson started the drive with a combination that would be familiar throughout the day, completing a 16-yard pass to D.J. Hall. Wilson also had a first down pass to Mike McCoy in the drive before it stalled. The drive was only 35 yards after the onsides kick recovery and took seven plays.
Bama extended the lead to 10-0 with a nine-play, 84-yard drive following a Tennessee punt.
Wilson got the march started with a 14-yard pass to tight end Travis McCall, then hit deep to Hall for 42 yards to the Tennessee 28. Wilson hit a key third-and-11 to Keith Brown that came up inches short, but Tennessee--which had some penalty problems during the day--jumped offsides on fourth down to give Bama a first down. The drive was still in jeopardy when Wilson overthrew tight end Nick Walker on a third-and-four play from the seven, but the Vols were guilty of a personal foul (roughing the passer).
With new life, a first-and-goal at the Tennessee three, Wilson completed a pass on second down to tailback Terry Grant for the touchdown. Alabama led 10-0.
Tennessee made it clear the Vols were going to compete with a very efficient touchdown drive against an Alabama defense that brought to mind hot butter. The Vols went 71 yards in seven plays with quarterback Erik Ainge hitting a variety of receivers and Vols tailback Arian Foster mixing in big runs. Foster got the touchdown from two yards out and Daniel Lincoln kicked the extra point to cut Bama's margin to 10-7 with 4:43 remaining in the first quarter.
Javier Arenas (who had extensive playing time at safety) had one of his best kickoff returns of the year. The 62-yard runback featured Arenas doing an excellent job of picking up blockers to the Tennessee 34.
Alabama's offense squandered the good field position. Two incomplete passes doomed the drive, and the Tide tried a 48-yard field goal that missed.
The Vols quickly got field position turned with a pass against no defense. Tennessee took a timeout and called a play that Bama's defense obviously was not ready for. Ainge hit Foster coming out of the backfield with no Tide defender within shouting distance. The only reason it wasn't a 46-yard touchdown was a block in the back penalty at the two. That just delayed the score. On the first play off the second quarter, third and two, the Vols cleaned up that mess with a three-yard Ainge pass to unguarded tight end Luke Stocker for the touchdown and a 14-10 Tennessee lead.
Alabama's next drive got off to a bad start when a holding penalty on the kickoff return started Bama at the 14 yard line. But Wilson started an excellent second quarter with a 15-yard completion to Hall. Grant broke off a 26-yard run up the middle of the Vols defense to the Tennessee 45 and Grant followed it with an eight-yard run. After an incompletion, Wilson dropped the center snap, but the Tide quarterback picked it up and scrambled for to a first down at the Tennessee 33.
An offsides penalty against the Vols gave Bama first down at the Tennessee nine. The drive seemed in trouble when Justin Britt was flagged for a personal foul, but on third and goal from the 16 Wilson connected with Hall for the touchdown and a 17-14 lead. The 86-yard drive took 11 plays and 3:40. It gave Alabama the lead with under 12 minutes to play in the first half.
In this game that was time for plenty of football and more scoring followed.
Bama forced Tennessee's second punt of the first half (Alabama didn't have a punt) and started a drive at the Bama 25 with 7:26 to play. The Tide would use all but 12 seconds of that margin in going out to a 24-14 lead. Wilson hit Hall on a third down play for a first down, then connected with Matt Caddell on a 22-yard gain on third and four. Bama was at the Tennessee 33. A false start penalty hurt and the Tide faced fourth and one at the Vols 24. Grant got the first down.
Wilson ran for five yards and a first down, then Grant got the first down at the Tennessee 13. It looked like Bama might have have blown the opportunity when a third down pass went off Caddell and was intercepted by Tennessee in the end zone, but the Vols had been guilty of pass interference. On first and goal from the two Wilson again connected with Hall for the touchdown. It was 24-14 with 12 seconds to play. Bama had gone 75 yards in 16 plays and used up almost all the clock.
Unfortunately for Bama, the kickoff team and defense combined on some bonehead plays to allow Tennessee a last play field goal and cut the lead to 24-17. First, Tiffin's kickoff attempt was out of bounds. On the re-kick the Vols started at their 45. Ainge completed a pass to Chris Brown for 12 yards with only two seconds left in the half, but Bama was guilty of hitting the receiver out of bounds. With the penalty the Vols were in range for Lincoln's 45-yard touchdown.
By halftime, Wilson and Hall already had pretty good numbers for a complete game. Wilson had completed 20 of 28 passes for 209 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Hall had 10 catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Of course, Ainge had completed 12 of 14 passes for 158 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Tennessee survived what appeared to be the first turnover of the game early in the third quarter when the official made the curious ruling that a fumbled handoff from a running back to a wide receiver on a reverse was an incomplete pass. But two plays later Bama's Kareem Jackson made an excellent pick of an Ainge pass at the Alabama five and returned it to the Crimson Tide 39-yard line.
Jackson's interception led to a 20-yard Tiffin field goal and a 27-17 lead. It was a 58-yard drive in 10 plays that took 4:47 and came with 6:57 remaining in the third quarter.
Tennessee's next drive ended with something of a surprise. The Vols had faced first and 20 and two big plays made it third and two at the Tennessee 48. Instead of Foster getting another crack at Bama's defensive front (he was averaging over six yards per carry), the Vols tried a quick pass that Bama's Keith Saunders knocked down at the line of scrimmage, forcing a punt.
Alabama had the makings of a nice drive, but it ended with a couple of incomplete passes and forced a 42-yard field goal by Tiffin. The kick with 2:12 to go in the third quarter pushed Bama's lead to 30-17. Bama drove seven yards in 56 plays, one of those a pass completion to Hall that gave him 12 for the game, tying an Alabama record.
Alabama failing to cash touchdowns when in Tennessee territory was nerve-wracking, because the Vols were still having plenty of offensive success against Bama's defense. Almost no one expected 30 points to be enough to win the game.
Bama's defense did hold on the subsequent possession, and the Tide had the ball and the 30-17 lead as the fourth quarter began.
That possession led to a touchdown, a surprising Grant run of eight yards on third and four. The Tide had driven 82 yards in 10 plays and taken just over five minutes. That six-point score gave Bama a 19-point lead. In order to make it a true three-touchdown lead, Bama went for two points. Wilson connected with Hall for that score. With just under 11 minutes to play it was 38-17.
Big plays in that touchdown drive included Wilson hitting Nikita Stover on a 19-yard gain and then finding Roy Upchurch on a 22-yard completion to the Tennessee 35. On a third-and-four, Wilson hit Caddell on a 16-yard gain and a first down at the Tennessee 13.
Tennessee was understandably desperate and on a fourth and two at the Alabama 47 the Vols decided to try for the first down. The snap to Ainge in shotgun formation was low and hit the ground and the play fell apart.
Alabama didn't seem to be going anywhere, but a personal foul against the Vols gave the Tide a first down at the Tennessee 32. The drive stalled, but Tiffin kicked his fourth field goal, a 44-yard effort that hit the right upright and bounced through for the final points of the day. Bama was a 41-17 winner.
Tennessee's next drive ended in a three-and-out and then the Vols then changed quarterbacks to Jonathan Crompton, whose second pass was intercepted by Kareem Jackson with 1:28 to play.
Alabama ran out the clock and Crimson Tide fans were permitted to leave the stadium.
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