Tide turns in Tennessee

In case anyone was wondering, Alabama has a current one-game winning streak in the most important football rivalry in the South. Alabama took advantage of Tennessee turnovers to end a seven-game losing streak to the Volunteers in Knoxville Saturday night. The Crimson Tide returned an errant pass that was ruled a fumbled lateral for a touchdown in the opening moments and took advantage of an interception to set up a final score in the final minutes and rolled to a 34-14 decision.

The win elevated Alabama to a 6-2 record, including a 3-1 Southeastern Conference mark, while Tennessee – losing for the first time in its history to Florida, Georgia and Alabama in the same season – is now 4-3 overall and 1-3 in SEC games. Bama came into the game ranked 19th in the nation, while the Vols were ranks 16th.

The victory was celebrated for several minutes after the game by Alabama players who went to the area in front of the 9,000-plus Alabama fans on hand for the game. (Fortunately, no Alabama football players felt the need to go up and attempt to lead the Million Dollar Band, as former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning had done with the Tennessee band following a victory by the Vols one year. Under ordinary direction, the Million Dollar Band did entertain with a post-game rendition of "The Tennessee Waltz.")

Alabama continues in SEC play and on the road and in Tennessee again next Saturday. The Tide will go to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores at 1 p.m. CST. The game will be available on a pay-per-view television basis on cable and satellite systems.

Alabama had a 14-0 lead with less than a minute to play in the first half when the Tide was victimized by its frequent poor kickoff coverage, giving up an 87-yard touchdown return. Bama had complete control in the second half to nail down its first win over Tennessee since 1994.

The game got off to an unusual start when a Tennessee pass seemed to be an innocuous incompletion. However, the ball was thrown slightly behind parallel, and when it bounced off the receivers hands it was a free ball. Tide cornerback Gerald Dixon scooped it up and went 66 yards for the touchdown. Kyle Robinson, who had two field goals, kicked the first of his four extra points.

Despite not having much through most of the first half, the Bama defense kept the Tide in control. Charles Jones interception of a Tennessee pass in the end zone late in the second quarter kept the Vols off the board. A few minutes later a 56-yard Brodie Croyle to Zach Fletcher pass put the Tide in position for Santonio Beard – a former Mr. Football in Tennessee – to score the first of his two rushing touchdowns. Beard took it in from 10 yards out. He would also score the final touchdown after Charley Peprah's interception with just over four minutes to play. Peprah picked it off at the Tennessee 49-yard line and returned it 48 yards to the Vols' one, both setting up the absolute clinching touchdown and starting the exodus of the majority of the 107,000 from Neyland Stadium.

Alabama gave up an inexcusable touchdown to Tennessee in the final minute of the first half when a short kickoff appeared to go a little too long, and then Alabama coverage men gave their best imitation of a sieve. It was 14-7 at intermission and Tennessee was going to get the ball on a second half kickoff, which is frequently a recipe for a big momentum shift.

However, the Alabama defense was stout through most of the evening. Strong safety Waine Bacon tipped a pass that was intercepted by defensive lineman Ahmad Childress and led to a Robinson field goal and a 17-7 lead.

Alabama had some good luck in a touchdown drive later in the third quarter. Back-up quarterback Brodie Croyle appeared to be trapped, but got the ball away to Beard for a 35-yard gain. A moment later an apparent trick play – wide receiver Thurman Ward looking to pass downfield – turned into a broken play with Ward picking up 24 yards to the Tennessee 18. A pass interference call against the Vols then set up short yardage and starting quarterback Tyler Watts went in for a two-yard touchdown and a 24-7 lead.

Bama's only real defensive lapse in the game was allowing a quick Tennessee touchdown after that score.

The Alabama offense responded with a very good 15-play drive that took 8:15 seconds to cover 76 yards. The only bad thing about the march was that ended with just a field goal, a 21-yarder by Robinson, that put the Tide up 27-14 with just over eight minutes to play.

Tennessee has been injury-prone this year. The Vols' quarterback, Casey Clausen, was able to play, but Tennessee's big play wide receiver, Kelley Washington, had to sit out the game because of a concussion he had suffered a couple of weeks ago.

Neither team had great offensive statistics. The Vols had 17 first downs to Bama's 14. Bama had 46 rushes for 170 yards, Tennessee 26 runs for only 59 yards. Tide quarterbacks completed seven of 12 passes for 128 yards, Tennessee quarterbacks 15 of 27 passes for 163 yards. Alabama had 58 plays for 298 yards, Tennessee 53 plays for 222 yards. The Vols were victimized by five turnovers – three pass interceptions and two lost fumbles. Bama lost one fumble and had one pass intercepted.

Alabama scored on five of six red zone possessions, Tennessee only one of three. The Tide won the time of possession battle, 32:49 to 27:11. While Alabama was good on only three of 11 third down conversions, the Vols were able to make only one of nine. Croyle completed five of seven passes for 128 yards, while Watts completed two of five for net zero yardage. Beard had 16 rushes for 65 yards and Shaud Williams eight runs for 49 yards. Beard was the only Tider with more than one reception, two catches for 53 yards, while Fletcher's lone reception for 56 yards was the longest offensive play of the game.

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