After notching their first SEC win of the year, the Vols (2-5) were looking to shock the world as they traveled to Tuscaloosa with hopes of beating the top-ranked Crimson Tide (7-0).
The Vols certainly didn’t play like (+34) point underdogs. They kept within striking distance for most of the game until a crucial turnover late in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach.
Brian Maurer got the start for the Vols, but it didn’t mean much in terms of production on the first drive of the game. Tennessee gained just three yards before punting the ball away.
A decent punt return helped the Tide cross into Tennessee territory, specifically the UT35. Two quick plays moved Alabama into the red zone and a defensive pass interference call on Bryce Thompson put the ball at UT2. Najee Harris punched it in a few plays later to give Alabama the first lead of the game. Joseph Bulovas hit the PAT and Bama led, 7-0, with 11:22 to go in the first quarter.
Jauan Jennings dropped a pass that went right into Jared Mayden’s hands, just like the pass he dropped in the end zone during the Florida game. Alabama would take over at the UT38, looking to extend its lead.
Tua Tagovailoa and the offense found themselves at UT2 in no time, but good pressure from the defense led to a Nigel Warrior interception at the goal line. Warrior was able to race down the sideline 59 yards to the UA41, setting the Vols up with good field position.
Alabama sacked Maurer on second down, but he found Josh Palmer on 3rd-and-10 for a 20-yard reception. A defensive holding call moved Tennessee into the red zone, but an offensive hold on Jennings moved them right back out of it.
But Jennings made up for it on the next play, taking a quick pass 18 yards to the ALA2. The Vols faced a 3rd-and-short soon after and Maurer snuck it across the first-down marker and into the end zone. Brent Cimaglia hit the PAT and the game was tied, 7-7, with 4:21 to go in the first quarter.
Harris helped the Tide drive right down the field on the next offensive possession, however, and Brian Robinson finished it off with a 9-yard touchdown run to put Alabama back up, 14-7. It took just 2:46 for Alabama to drive 65 yards in six plays.
A scary moment happened on the next drive. Maurer took a high hit from Lee and the back of his head hit the knee of Darnell Wright, causing him to go into the medical tent. Jarrett Guarantano would take over at quarterback, just like he did last week.
The quarterback change didn’t slow down the offense. Guarantano watched Tim Jordan take a handoff 33 yards to the UA20 and a defensive pass interference call a couple of plays later gave the Vols a 1st-and-goal from the UA5.
But a false start and a holding call dropped Tennessee all the way back to the UA20. Tennessee had eight penalties for 58 yards and there was still over 12:00 left in the first half.
Guarantano had Jennings open for a touchdown, but overthrew him. Fortunately, Cimaglia hit the 37-yard field goal and the Vols now trailed by four, 14-10, with 11:54 left in the first half.
Tagovailoa took over on the next drive. A 48-yard completion to Henry Ruggs III set the Tide up at the UT13 and Harris scored his second touchdown of the game a few plays later to put Alabama up, 21-10, with 9:02 to go in the first half.
The Vols not only lost ground in the points department, but they also lost starting middle linebacker Daniel Bituli to a targeting call on that drive. It was pretty obvious as he lowered his head while attempting to make a tackle on Jeudy near the goal line.
Tennessee couldn’t get anything done on the next drive and a Jaylen McCullough sack ended the next Bama drive.
But the big development was the fact that Tagovailoa was seen limping into the medical tent, resulting in backup quarterback Mac Jones coming into the game. Tennessee already lost Maurer for the game, would Alabama lose its starter, too?
Three straight timeouts from Jeremy Pruitt turned out to be one of the best defensive stops of the first half, as Bulovas missed a 41-yard attempt right before halftime.
The second half began with the news that Tagovailoa would miss the remainder of the game. Tennessee’s defense held Alabama to a three-and-out on its opening possession, giving themselves a shot to make it a one-score game.
A 25-yard Ty Chandler run took the ball down to the UA30 and Guarantano faced down intense pressure to deliver a strike to Jennings in order to convert a 3rd-and-8. The Vols now had the ball at UA7, but a holding call on Wanya Morris and an illegal formation penalty killed the drive. Tennessee was left with a 32-yard field goal attempt. Cimaglia drove it home and the Vols now trailed, 21-13, with 8:32 left in the third quarter.
Tennessee forced another three-and-out, but a very questionable unnecessary roughness penalty on Darrell Taylor kept the drive alive. It would turn out to be a very big penalty. Alabama found the end zone eight plays and 76 yards later after wide receiver Slade Bolden lined up at quarterback and hit tight end Miller Forristall to put the Tide up 28-13, with 4:55 left in the third quarter.
But the Vols wouldn’t go away. They continued to drive down the field well into the fourth quarter. A completion to Chandler on 3rd-and-8 and a huge defensive pass interference call on Patrick Surtain II on 3rd-and-10 kept the drive alive. Two big Jordan runs gave the Vols the ball at the UA2.
Three straight runs brought up a 4th-and-goal inside the UA1. The Vols went quick-tempo and Guarantano attempted to leap over the pile and into the end zone, but instead had the ball knocked out of his hands before the ball crossed the goal line.
Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs scooped up the ball and ran 100 yards for the score, putting the Tide up, 35-13, and essentially sealing the game.
Pruitt decided to put JT Shrout in on the next drive. It was clear he was very upset with Guarantano after the fumble and it looked as if Guarantano was supposed to run inside instead of leaping over the pile, which caused Pruitt’s livid reaction and decision to put Shrout in the game.
Alabama would go on to win the game, 35-13, dropping the Vols to 2-5 on the season.
Tennessee will host the South Carolina Gamecocks in Neyland next week. Kickoff is set for 4PM EST.