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Late offensive, defensive heroics boost No. 8 Crimson Tide to 19-14 win over Volunteers (via Crimson Magazine)

Courtesy of Crimson Magazine

By Stan J. Griffin: October 24, 2015

Nick Saban's No. 8 University of Alabama football team struggled offensively and defensively throughout the course of Saturday's contest against rival Tennessee at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and it appeared late in the contest that a physically-spent Crimson Tide team was in dire jeopardy of having its Southeastern Conference and national title hopes squashed by Butch Jones' Volunteer team.

But in a game mainly defined by the sluggishness of the Tide and the stubborn resolve of the visitors from Knoxville, a resilient and gritty Alabama team used big plays by Jake Coker, Derrick Henry, ArDarius Stewart, Ryan Anderson and A'Shawn Robinson among others in the last five minutes or so to avoid the huge home upset, while also keeping its win streak alive against the Volunteers.


Alabama topped the Vols 19-14 before a capacity crowd of 101,821 to improve to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in SEC play. Tennessee, with yet another heartbreaking defeat, fell to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in conference play. It was the ninth-consecutive win by the Tide over the Volunteers in a tradition-rich series dating back to 1901.
"It’s a great win for our team," Saban. "We were tired out there today and we didn’t look really quick or fast. 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. 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. It was a great drive that we had to score the touchdown, and the defense did a great job of stopping them inside two minutes. I think Tennessee has a really good team and they’ve lost three or four games that were really close or really tough. Obviously, this bye week is going to be very welcoming for us in terms of getting some guys healed up and rested up so that we can be at our best down the stretch. I can’t tell you how proud I am of how our guys competed in the game. They just found a way to win. We didn’t play that great. We had some really critical penalties on offense that stopped drives. We also had some negative plays that stopped drives. We’ve got a lot of work to do. The focus in this bye week will be to heal up, rest up and to try to improve. We are going to try to get more guys ready to play. I thought Jake (Coker) did a fantastic job did although he did not have really good protection a lot of the time. He got sacked five times, and he got out of some other sacks, so we certainly need to clean that up. Derrick Henry had another really good day running the football. On defense, they had two drives against us, and make a couple big plays on that last drive which was a little too easy for them, but that’s a good offensive team and they’ve got some really good weapons. They do a great job with the quarterback (Joshua Dobbs), the quarterback runs, the runners that they have, and the personnel that they have. 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. It’s always a big win for us, no matter what the score."

In what proved to be the pivotal sequence in the contest for the Crimson Tide, Tennessee tailback Jalen Hurd scored a 12-yard touchdown run with 5:49 left to put UT ahead, only to have Alabama answer with an ensuing 71-yard drive.

Coker, the senior quarterback,  completed passes of 29 yards to wide receiver ArDarius Stewart and 15 yards to wide receiver Calvin Ridley.

Henry, the junior tailback, also carried five times for 35 yards on the winning drive, including the game-winning 14-yard touchdown run with 2:24 left.

Then late in the game, Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs was sacked by Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson for a loss of 10 at the UT 11. He lost the ball on the play and Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson recovered at the UT 13 and returned the fumble nine yards to the UT 4 with 1:18 left. 

After that key defensive play, it was just a matter of Coker taking a knee on three consecutive snaps to end the game.

Midway through the first quarter, Alabama scored the first points of the contest as Henry broke free for a 20-yard scoring run to cap a 9-play, 75-yard drive. Henry went over the 1,000 mark Saturday with his 143-yard effort (28 carries). He scored twice Saturday and now has scored a rushing touchdown in 13 consecutive games.

With just three minutes remaining in the period, though, Tennessee was able to knot the game at 7-7 as Dobbs connected with Josh Smith on an 11-yard TD pass to cap a 10-play, 75-yard march.

There was no scoring in the second quarter as the two teams remained deadlocked at the intermission.

With nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Tide's Adam Griffith provided the only points of the period as he connected on a 19-yard field goal to give Alabama the narrow 10-7 advantage. Griffith's successful kick capped a 12-play, 73-yard drive.

With 7:08 left in the fourth quarter, Griffith stretched that lead to 13-7 as his 28-yard field goal put a cap on a 12-play, 56-yard possession.

On its ensuing possession, the Vols, behind the passing of Dobbs, quickly advanced down the field against the Tide defense.  At the end of a 4-play, 75-yard drive that took only 1:19 off the clock, Hurd gave the Vols their first lead of the game at 14-13.

With just less than six minutes remaining in the fourth, though,  Alabama still had plenty of time to drive for go-ahead points.
Thanks to big passes by Coker to Stewart and Ridley, and several key rambles by Henry, the Tide did just that, completing the clutch 71-yard drive with Henry's second TD run of the contest.

"I think the third down conversions (on the winning drive), especially the two fade routes, were really good catches and really good throws," said Saban. "We were able to run the ball, and ran the catch-sweep counter on the touchdown which was a great misdirection. The line did a good job, Derrick did a good job, and we scored a touchdown. It was a go-for-two [points] situation that would have made a big difference if we converted it there, but the defense did a good job on going out and getting a stop [after the failed conversion]. But the third down conversions [offensively] were huge.”

The Vols still had time to mount their own comeback attempt, but the fumble by Dobbs after the sack by Anderson ended those hopes for a late rally.

Alabama totaled 364 yards of offense (117 rushing and 247 passing) in the win while Tennessee tallied 303 yards.

Coker completed 21 of 27 passes with one interception, and he was sacked five times.

Tight end O.J. Howard caught 7 of Coker's passes for 55 yards while Stewart had 6 catches for 114 yards. Ridley added 6 catches for 62 yards.

Besides Griffith's two successful field goals, punter JK Scott also had a nice night in terms of helping to switch field position with 4 kicks for an average of 49.8 yards with a long punt of 56 yards.

Defensively, Reggie Ragland led the Crimson Tide with 12 tackles while Reuben Foster added 11 and Minkah Fitzpatrick 7.

Foster, Anderson, D.J. Pettway and Jonathan Allen all had a sack each while Jarran Reed and Daron Payne added 0.5 sacks apiece. Foster had two tackles for loss.

"I’m really proud of our team," said Vols coach Butch Jones after the game. "I thought our team showed some grit, some determination and some resiliency on the road against a quality opponent, a top ten opponent, in a hostile environment to go down and drive the ball and put us in a position to win. At the University of Tennessee, there are no moral victories. I’m very proud of our defense. Five sacks and 10 TFL’s (tackles for losses). You had individuals playing through aches and pains. [Sophomore defensive end] Derek Barnett is simply a warrior. [Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman] Kendal Vickers, the productivity of [junior linebacker] Jalen Reeves-Maybin and [freshman linebacker Darrin] Kirkland. I thought those players really stepped up against a senior and junior dominated football team. I thought our strength and conditioning with youngsters really showed. I thought the strength and conditioning program showed tonight what we’re building and what we’re becoming. What can I say about [sophomore running back] Jalen Hurd? 92 tough yards. I think he deserves conversations as one of the best backs in the United States of America. You look at what he’s doing and the tough yards that he gets, I think he needs to start getting more attention on a national stage. I thought [junior quarterback] Josh Dobbs was gritty. I thought our whole football team was. We’re going through some growing pains right now, but I see great progress. It’s about closing games out, making critical plays when the game is on the line."

Alabama has its sole bye week of the season next weekend before returning to game action on Saturday, Nov. 7, at Bryant-Denny Stadium against Les Miles' LSU Tigers. Kickoff time and television coverage details for that pivotal SEC showdown have not been announced as of yet.

Courtesy of Crimson Magazin

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