No. 2 Alabama secured its 13th straight win over Tennessee, 35-13, but, given that Alabama is 7-0, Tennessee is 2-5 and the Tide has now beaten the Vols 13 straight times, the final score almost takes a back seat to all the moments inside this wild game.
For starters, Tua Tagovailoa left the game in the second quarter and did not return. The junior signal caller completed 11-of-12 passes for 155 yards before heading to the locker room with what Alabama called a “lower body injury” but the human eye determined to be his ankle. He was taken via ambulance to a local hospital but later returned to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Tagovailoa’s one incompletion was one of the turning points of the game. Leading 7-0 and with the ball at the Tennessee 2-yard line, Tagovailoa forced the issue on first down and fired directly to Tennessee’s Nigel Warrior, who raced the ball 59 yards to Alabama’s 41. The Volunteers cashed in on a 1-yard Tim Jordan rush to knot the game at 7-7 at the 7:28 mark of the first quarter.
Alabama scored back-to-back touchdowns, runs by Brian Robinson, Jr., and Najee Harris, to take a 21-10 lead when Tagovailoa injured late in the second quarter on a sack by Greg Emerson.
Mac Jones entered the game from there and Alabama’s offense stalled out and Tennessee, trailing 21-13, was set to get the ball back when Darrell Taylor sacked Jones on 3rd-and-10 midway through the third quarter when he was flagged for a personal foul in climbing off Jones.
Alabama later scored, pushing the lead to 28-13.
With the score still 28-13, Tennessee put together a 14-play drive that consumed the entire first half of the fourth quarter. On a first-and-goal from the 2, Tennessee lost a yard on first down, gained that yard back on second down, gained one more on third down and then saw disaster strike on fourth down when Jarrett Guarantano, who entered the game in the first quarter for an injured Brian Maurer, fumbled the ball into the end zone, which was picked up and returned for a touchdown by Trevon Diggs.
Cameras caught Jeremy Pruitt briefly yanking Guarantano’s face mask, and third-stringer JT Shrout played the remainder of the game at quarterback for Tennessee.
Nick Saban estimated to ESPN’s cameras after the game that Tagovailoa will miss 1-2 weeks with a high ankle sprain, which is a good thing for Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC), who has Arkansas and an off week before No. 2 LSU comes to Tuscaloosa. Jones completed 6-of-11 passes for 72 yards in relief.
For Tennessee (2-5, 1-3 SEC), Guarantano was just 7-of-16 for 55 yards, while Maurer went 5-of-7 for 62 yards and an interception. Tim Jordan managed to rush for 94 yards on 17 carries, while Harris led all runners with 105 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.