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Vols drop second straight game of 2021 season in 52-24 loss to No. 4 Crimson Tide

Tennessee has now lost back-to-back games for the first time this year.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Alabama
Tiyon Evans and the Vols rushing attack were obsolete on Saturday evening.
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Volunteers (4-4, 2-3) came into Saturday night’s matchup with the No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1, 4-1) looking to break a 14-game losing streak, which is one of the longest losing streaks to a single opponent in program history.

The Vols weren’t able to end the streak, but they did make things interesting for a little while, which is ultimately what fans asked for at the end of the day. Penalties and very poorly-timed interception ended up costing the Vols a shot at winning the game, but there was still a lot to like and to learn from the 52-24 loss.

Tennessee’s first drive was exactly what the offense did not need: a three-and-out. It looked as if Alabama was going to do the same, but Bryce Young found Cameron Latu for a gain of eight yards on 3rd and 7 to move the chains and avoid a three and out. Bama converted two more third downs afterward and the second one came with a 15-yard unnecessary roughing penalty that moved the ball to the UT22.

The Vols looked as if they had Young contained in the backfield on 2nd and 8, but the secnod-year quarterback was able to weave through the Tennessee defense for a 12-yard gain.

Brian Robinson Jr. then punched it in from eight-yards out on the next play and the PAT went through the uprights to make it a 7-0 Alabama lead, with 8:05 to go in the first quarter.

Tennessee avoided a second straight three-and-out on the next drive as Hendon Hooker hit Jabari Small down the right sideline for a 16-yard catch-and-run on 3rd and 1. Hooker then found Cedric Tillman down the seam a couple plays later for a 39-yard pass to give the Vols offense a 1st and 10 at the Alabama 11. It didn’t take much longer for the Vols to score their first touchdown of the game as Hooker hit Velus Jones Jr. in the end zone for an eight-yard gain that also gave the Vols six points. Chase McGrath’s PAT went through the uprights and the game was now 7-7 with 6:15 left in the first quarter.

The Tide drove right back into Tennessee territory on its next drive, but Byron Young was able to break through the offensive line and force Young and Co. into a 3rd and 12 that they could not convert. Nick Saban decided to go for the 54-yard field goal attempt and Will Reichard’s kick sailed wide right and was no good.

Will Anderson Jr. and Christian Harris were able to get to Hooker for the Tide’s first sack of the game on the first second down of Tennessee’s next drive, which left the Vols with a 3rd and 28. Tennessee couldn’t convert the third down and had to punt the ball away on the next play. But it was on this 4th and 23 that Alabama was called for roughing the kicker, which gave the Vols a fresh set of downs at the UT 38.

The penalty on Chris Braswell ended up costing Alabama six points. Hooker found Ja’Vonta Payton two plays later for a 57-yard catch-and-run that ended with Payton scampering into Bama’s end zone. Chase McGrath’s PAT went through the uprights and the Vols now led, 14-7, with :26 to go in the first quarter.

Alabama’s next drive started at its own 29 and it took just three plays before it was in UT territory. Bama continued to drive down the field in search of more points, but Jameson Williams fumbled the ball at the Vols’ nine-yard line and Kenneth George Jr. was there to give the Vols possession.

But Tennessee couldn’t get anything done with its extra possession. In fact, the offense went three-and-out and then a five-yard penalty gave Bama good starting field position at the Vols’ 44. The Tide didn’t miss its shot at points this time around. The offense did not see one play lose yardage en route to a 3rd and goal from the UT5. The Vols defense was able to hold strong initially, but Young’s ability to make plays out of structure eventually took over and he scrambled into the end zone for Bama’s second touchdown of the game. Reichard’s PAT went through and the game was now tied, 14-14, with 9:27 left in the first half.

Tennessee really needed an answer, but it delivered another whimper as it went three-and-out for the second time in a row on the next drive.

Young and the Bama offense continued to tear up the Tennessee defense on the next drive. John Metchie was a major part of this drive, racking up three catches for 34 yards that included the eventual six-yard touchdown to make it a 21-14 game with 2:34 left in the first half.

Young was on fire at this point, completing 19-of-24 passes for 201 yards and the touchdown to Metchie. He was killing it with his legs, as well, evidenced by the 28 yards and one touchdown on four carries. Metchie was having a great first half himself with six receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown.

Alabama was set to receive the ball to start the second half, so it was absolutely necessary the Vols get some kind of points on their final drive of the first half. The question was simply whether or not they could do it.

And the answer was simply no. A pre-snap penalty before the drive even started put the Vols in a 1st and 15 and then a false start two plays later left the Vols in a 2nd 18. A 16-yard completion to Tillman gave the Vols a slight bit of hope, but they eventually fell short on the subsequent 3rd and 2 and had to punt.

Poor defense and an unnecessary roughing call on Jeremy Banks helped Bama move to midfield, but the Vols were able to sack Young for an 11-yard loss that led to a 3rd and 18. Bama tried to convert, but was called for holding. The Vols declined the penalty, Bama punted, and the Vols went into halftime down 21-14.

Both teams traded punts to start the second half. Bama lined up for its second straight punt of the second half and hiked the ball only to see the Vols special teams unit come crashing through the line and block the punt.

The Vols took over at the Bama 16, but the defense held tough and forced a field goal. Tennessee trailed, 21-17, with 9:44 left in the third quarter.

Alabama quickly faced a 3rd and 12 on its next drive, but Young delivered a strike down the seam for a 28-yard gain to Metchie. Young then scrambled for 16 yards on 3rd and 7 a few plays later to move the offense into scoring territory. But Young couldn’t convert a second 3rd and 7 thanks to heavy pressure and Reichard and the Tide were left with a 45-yard field goal attempt. The kick went through the uprights and the Tide now led, 24-17, with 6:22 to go in the third quarter.

Tennessee was able to get close to midfield before its drive sputtered. A low snap became the catalyst for a 38-yard punt that gave the Crimson Tide the ball at its own 20. The Vols defense had a chance to get the Tide offense off the field early, but Young found Williams for 14-yards on 3rd and 7 and then stellar protection allowed Young to find Traeshon Holden for 26-yards to the UT35.

Bama set up shop with a 1st and 10 at the UT12 a few pays later. Tennessee held the Bama offense to a 3rd and 4 but Young was able to make yet another play with his legs and dodged and weaved Tennessee defenders from six yards out before diving into the end zone and giving the Tide a 31-17 lead with 14:51 left in the game.

Young did fumble the ball before he broke the plane, but he recovered the ball in the end zone so the touchdown stood, regardless.

But it didn’t take long for Tennessee to answer back. At all.

Hooker dropped back on the first play of Tennessee’s next drive and launched one to a wide-open Tillman streaking down the right sideline for a 70-yard touchdown. McGrath’s PAT went through the uprights and the Tide’s lead was cut to 31-24 with 14:30 left in the game.

The Vols had Bama right where they wanted them early on the next drive. An excellent tackle for loss by Doneiko Slaughter set the Vols defense up with a 3rd and 15, but Young found Williams deep over the middle for a 65-yard catch and run down to the UT15 and Robinson bowled over Tennessee defenders en route to his second rushing touchdown of the day on the very next play to push Bama’s lead back to two scores, 38-24, with 12:42 to go.

Hooker tried to mount a comeback and he had the offense in Alabama territory, but a drastic miscommunication between him and the intended receiving target led to an interception by Bama’s Jalyn Armour-Davis. Armour-Davis ran it all the way down to the UT18, a DPI on Jaylen McCollough gave Bama a 1st and goal from the UT4, and Robinson punched it in three plays later to give the Tide a 45-24 lead with 8:51 left in the game.

Bama would hang one more touchdown on the Vols before the clock hit zero to give the game a final score of 52-24. Tennessee is now 4-4 on the year with a 2-3 record in SEC play.

The Vols have the week off, but will travel to Lexington in two weeks to take on the Kentucky Wildcats (6-1, 4-1) who is currently ranked as the 15th-best team in the nation. Kickoff is to be determined.