No. 4 Alabama built a nearly insurmountable lead first half lead and coasted from there, turning a 27-0 early lead into a 34-20 victory over Tennessee Saturday night in Neyland Stadium.
Lane Kiffin‘s much-hyped return to Knoxville quieted the Tennessee crowd from the opening snap, as Alabama scored on its first play from scrimmage with an 80-yard pass from Blake Sims to Amari Cooper. The Tide followed that up with touchdown drives of 79 and 90 yards, grabbing a 20-0 lead. By the time Alabama got the ball with 1:30 remaining in the first quarter, Tennessee had punted four times and saw itself get out-gained 249-78.
After forcing a Joshua Dobbs fumble deep in Volunteer territory and turning it into a 28-yard Blake Sims touchdown run to push the lead to 27-0 three minutes into the second quarter it seemed the Tide was ready avalanche Tennessee the same way it did Texas A&M last week.
But then Tennessee rallied.
The Vols responded with a 10-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to get on the board, and closed the half with a long field goal drive to pull within 27-10 at the break.
Tennessee mounted another long touchdown drive in the third quarter to pull within 27-17, but Derrick Henry put the game away with a 28-yard touchdown jaunt with 13 seconds left in the third quarter.
In the end, Tennessee never pulled within closer than 10 points, but it didn’t pack up shop when things got tough. Tennessee is a program long on moral victories and impatient for actual victories, but the Vols got better tonight.
For one, Dobbs has the makings of being a solution at quarterback. He hit 19-of-32 passes for 192 yards for two touchdowns and one interceptions and led the club in rushing with 19 carries for 75 yards. Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane combined for 107 yards on 19 carries, and Tennessee nearly matched Alabama yard-for-yard on the ground, 183 to 181.
Still, the combination of Sims to Cooper was too much for Tennessee. Sims was 14-of-24 for 286 yards and two touchdowns, and Cooper caught nine of those passes for 224 yards and both touchdowns. Only six players touched the ball for Alabama tonight: Sims, Cooper, Henry (16 carries, 78 yards and the touchdown), T.J. Yeldon (14 carries, 52 yards and a touchdown, one catch for three yards), DeAndrew White (four grabs for 59 yards, one rush for a loss of one) and Jaiston Fowler (two carries for 24 yards).
In all, Kiffin’s offense produced 34 points, 23 first downs, 469 yards of total offense and a cool 11-of-15 mark on third down.
Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) will take next week off before preparing for a trip to No. 24 LSU on Nov. 8, which happens to be its final road game of the season. Tennessee, 3-5, winless in SEC play and weary from playing four Top 12 teams in eight games, will visit South Carolina next week and, deservedly, closes with four games against unranked opponents.