The Vols started strong, getting out to a 20-7 lead, but Alabama scored 27 unanswered points in the second half to beat Tennessee 34-20.
Tennessee needed eight plays to go 75 yards on the game’s opening drive to take a 7-0 lead. Joe Milton 5-5 for 60 yards and a 39-yard touchdown pass to Squirrel White on the first drive in 2 minutes and 21 seconds.
White had four catches on four targets on the drive and just look at the brilliance of that touchdown catch:
The Vols’ defense first Alabama’s offense into punts on its first two possessions of the game, with Elijah Herring making a key third-down tackle on the first drive, while Tamarion McDonald made his third tackle of the quarter of Bama’s second drive.
UT’s second drive looked like it might have been going nowhere, before Milton hit White on a 12-yard catch for a first down. After the first penalty of the game, a hold on Gerald Mincey or John Campbell, Milton and the offense reeled off two-straight plays of 10 yards or more. Dylan Sampson had a 12-yard run and Ramel Keyton caught a 13-yarder.
A Dont’e Thornton drop kept the squad from another chunk play with the first incompletion of the game for Milton. After that drop, Tennessee’s red zone struggles reared its ugly head as Sampson ripped off another 12-yard run and McCallan Castles caught a six-yard pass, but the Alabama defense held Tennessee to just three points after two-straight incompletions at the six-yard line.
15-play scoring drive. pic.twitter.com/EzY3iduRjO— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) October 21, 2023
After Alabama got the ball for its next drive, it ran two plays for four yards before James Pearce burst through the Bama line like a bull in a china shop and strip-sacked Jalen Milroe. Omarr Norman-Lott fell on the ball — putting the UT offense in great field position at Alabama’s 23-yard line.
The Vols once again couldn’t convert the opportunity into a touchdown. White caught a 13-yard pass to get UT inside the 10-yard line, but a one-yard rush and two incompletions killed the chance for seven points. On third down, Milton had tight end Jacob Warren in the far side corner of the endzone, but it was just a bit high and slipped through the veteran tight end’s hands.
With the start of the second quarter, the Tide started its next drive off with its first explosive play of the game — a Milroe to Kendrick Law 34-yard completion, but the Vols’ defense flexed its muscles again, holding Alabama to two plays and three yards before Norman-Lott sacked Milroe for minus-seven yards, which took the opposing offense out of field goal position.
Again, the Vols couldn’t convert on an opportunity. Milton went 2-3 for seven yards, and Tennessee had to punt the ball back to the Alabama offense that should be down at least 21-0 at this juncture of the game.
With about 11 minutes left in the second quarter, the Tide’s offense started to wake up. They had three plays of 10-yards or more, and on a first down catch by Alabama’s Isaiah Bond, Kamal Hadden met him at the sideline and they went shoulder-to-shoulder on the tackle, and it looked like Hadden left the game likely not to return.
Two plays later, Milroe connected with Jermaine Burton for a 10-yard touchdown. The Tide went nine plays for 59 yards to make it a one-score game at 13-7. The Vols could look back on this one and rue the fact that they should have been up three TDs before Alabama put any points on the board.
Tennessee’s next drive went for four plays — as the Vols went for it on fourth-and-half a yard, but Milton was stopped short of the first down and gave Alabama’s offense the ball on UT’s 34-yard line. Oof. With 4:20 left in the second quarter, UT had eight total yards of offense in the period.
The Vols’ defense kicked off the drive with an Herring delay of game penalty — giving Tennessee its second penalty of the game.
One play later, Milroe went for the score on the far sideline, and veteran safety Jaylen McCollough caught an interception in the end zone on a pass that was broken up by some tremendous coverage by Doneiko Slaughter.
When the Vols took over, Milton ran the ball for 11 and bowled over a Bama defender to set the tone of the drive, and Jabari Small got a couple four-to-five yard runs. Then Milton connected with White for 14 yards and completed a pass to Keyton who made a grown-man catch for a 30-yard gain.
On third-and-six, Alabama blitzed, and Milton hit Castles for a 6-yard touchdown near the far-side pylon for the Vols’ second touchdown of the game. The McCollough interception leads to seven points. Thank you, universe.
Alabama had a chance for a Hail Mary with one second left in the half, and Gabe Jeudy-Lally sacked Milroe to end the half with a 20-7 lead. It was the Vols’ third sack of the half, third tackle-for-loss and third quarterback hurry.
The Crimson Tide got the ball after halftime and needed just two plays to score. A 29-yard rush to start before Milroe hit Bond for his first touchdown of the game on a 46-yard toss for seven points. In 45 seconds, the game went from a two-score game to a one-score game, with the Vols leading 20-14.
On Tennessee’s first possession, Dee Williams called for a fair catch, but freshman Cam Seldon caught the ball and returned it — resulting in a penalty that took the Vols from the 25-yard line to the four-yard line. A Crimson-Tide, Elephant-sized mistake.
Jackson Ross, punting out of his own end zone, uncorked a punt that traveled 58 yards with a kindly Volunteer roll at the end.
Norman-Lott helped the Tide out with two-straight offsides penalties and instead of the drive starting at the 35-ish yard line, Bama started the drive at the 45.
Alabama got called for its first penalty of the day — the third-straight on the drive — but Milroe hit Bond for 20 yards and a first down at the Vols’ 30-yard line. Bama ran five plays, not including the teams’ three penalties and Alabama’s kicker absolutely squeaked a 24-yard field goal through the right upright, making it 20-17, Tennessee.
Tennessee ran five plays before the Tide’s defense stopped the Vols again on fourth and short, which gave the Bama offense the ball at near midfield. Questionable call from Heupel there, knowing the offense didn’t pick up a fourth-and-short earlier. He could have punted and flipped the field, but instead he gave a Bama offense with some momentum a short field to try and take the lead.
It took Bama four plays to get to the Vols’ five-yard line, and play number five gave Alabama its first lead on a five-yard, touchdown-scoring run play. 24-20 Alabama. 17 unanswered points by the Alabama offense.
UT answered with a holding penalty on the first play of its next drive, making it first-and-19. After a negative pass play and a run play that went for just a few yards — Milton hit Warren for 14 yards — three yards short of the first down leading to a Volunteer punt.
In the third quarter, Tennessee had the ball three times, punted twice and turned it over on downs once while accumulating 37 yards on nine plays. Meanwhile, the Tide scored on all three of its drives while piling up nine first downs and 168 yards of offense.
Alabama’s offense just bullied Tennessee’s defense down the field to start the final quarter of the game, gashing the Vols for three plays of at least 10 yards — one of them on third and 10. A Joshua Josephs’ sack on third down set the UA back nine yards, but Will Reichard hit the 50-yard field goal to make it a touchdown lead for Alabama. The Tide had outscored Tennessee 20-0 in the second half by this juncture of the game.
Alabama sealed the game with a strip-sack that got returned for a touchdown just as it looked like the Vols might be getting back into sync. 33-20 Alabama with 7:26 left.
There’s a lot to say, but I’m not going to get into it here. When you give up 27 second-half, unanswered points, you aren’t gonna win games in the SEC.
Tennessee rushed for just 146 yards on 36 attempts, as Milton led the way with 43 yards on 11 runs. Jaylen Wright had 11 carries for 22 yards.
The Vols had nine penalties for 55 yards, while Alabama got called for one penalty for five yards. UT scored one touchdown in its four trips inside the Tides’ 20-yard line.
TN heads to Kentucky next week, now sitting at 5-2 to face a 5-2 UK team that’s coming off two-straight losses, including last week’s 38-21 fall to Mizzou.
Let’s hope the guys play a full game next week (or figure out a way to win on the road), or the season outlook is gonna start getting real ugly.