No. 8 Alabama Escapes Tennessee With Late Touchdown, Defensive Stand
With its national title hopes on the brink, Alabama finally did what it had failed to do for the better part of the previous 54 minutes of the game:
After falling behind in the waning minutes, Derrick Henry scored on a 14-yard touchdown run with 2:24 to go in the fourth quarter to lift the eighth-ranked Crimson Tide to a 19-14 win over Tennessee on Saturday.
“For the most part, we did a good job, but I’m just really proud of the way our guys competed in this game and found a way to win,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It’s always a big win for us, no matter what the score. I think in rivalry games, I think you can throw out all that statistical information out the window. Their team really competed well in this game and played hard.”
But Henry’s score only came after the Volunteers put Alabama’s backs up against the wall.
Starting at its own 29-yard line, the Crimson Tide, which had struggled to move the ball offensively for most of the afternoon, took eight plays and 3:25 off the game clock on a drive ultimately capped off by Henry's go-ahead score. Quarterback Jake Coker connected with receivers ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley on passes of 29 and 15 yards, respectively, while Henry carried the ball five times for 29 yards.
On the previous drive, Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd put the Vols ahead, 14-13, on a 12-yard scoring run with 5:49 left, setting up Alabama’s strong finish.
When Tennessee (3-4, 1-3 SEC) got the ball back after Henry’s late touchdown, his second of the game, the Crimson Tide defense stood tall. Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson teamed up for consecutive sacks, the second of which also caused a forced fumble recovered in mid-air by A’Shawn Robinson with 1:18 remaining to seal the Alabama victory.
“We knew it was going to come down to defense,” cornerback Cyrus Jones said. “We knew the offense was going to make plays when they had to. It was just about execution. We executed when the time was needed.”
Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) now has two weeks to prepare for its meeting with No. 5 LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide has played noticeably worse in its home games this season compared to ones played away from Tuscaloosa.
“We didn’t have a lot of energy like we usually do, and I think that’s due to playing eight games in a row,” Saban said. “The best thing I can say is that you have to really respect a team that finds a way to win and makes plays when they have to make plays.”
Alabama, which trailed at halftime in home games against Ole Miss and Arkansas earlier this season, was tied 7-7 at the half with Tennessee.
In the second half, Adam Griffith made both of his field goals attempts – from 19 and 28 yards – to put the Crimson Tide up 13-7 with 7:08 to go before Hurd’s score gave Tennessee its brief lead. Vols kicker Aaron Medley, on the other hand, missed a 43-yarder, as well as two 51-yard tries.
“They just found a way to win,” Saban said. “We didn’t play that great.”
With the win, the Crimson Tide extends its winning streak to nine over Tennessee. For his career, which includes his coaching stint at LSU, Saban owns an 11-1 all-time record against the Vols.
Henry, who has had an increased workload offensively for Alabama over the past several weeks, carried the ball 28 times for 143 yards and two scores. His first touchdown, a 20-yard run in the first quarter, gave the Crimson Tide an early 7-0 lead.
Coker completed 21-of-27 passes for 247 yards and an interception. Stewart was Alabama’s leading receiver with six catches for 114 yards.
Alabama’s defense, ranked ninth in the nation in sacks prior to Saturday’s game, had five on Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs, including the final two from Allen and Anderson. As a unit, it allowed 303 yards of total offense, with its lone forced turnover coming at a critical point in the game.