No. 8 Alabama manages to shake off Tennessee for tight win
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Derrick Henry and Alabama only dominated the last few minutes, when their national championship hopes were hanging by a thread.
It was just enough. Henry scored on a 14-yard run with 2:24 left and the eighth-ranked Crimson Tide held on for a 19-14 victory over Tennessee on Saturday with an overpowering finish in a game that was precariously close.
Henry was barely touched on his second touchdown of the game, though the 2-point pass from Jake Coker failed. Then it was the defense’s turn.
Alabama (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) recorded two straight sacks and Ryan Anderson knocked the ball loose from Joshua Dobbs to preserve the win.
"My heart was about to jump out of my chest when the offense was on that last drive, when they punched it in," Tide cornerback Cyrus Jones said. "Then we did our job to seal the win."
The Tide got plenty of help, with Tennessee (3-4, 1-3) missing three long field-goal attempts.
It sets up a showdown with No. 5 LSU in two weeks at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where Alabama has been at its most vulnerable.
"They just found a way to win, because we didn’t play that great," Tide coach Nick Saban said.
The Volunteers took the lead on Jalen Hurd’s 12-yard scoring run with 5:49 left. Alabama overwhelmed the 15-point underdogs from there.
Coker moved Alabama downfield thanks to athletic catches by ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley. Ridley made a leaping grab for a 15-yarder on third and 6 from the Vols’ 40.
Then Coker turned it over to Henry, who continued a hot streak with 28 carries for 143 yards.
Dobbs and Tennessee managed a first down before the sacks. Anderson jarred the ball loose and A’Shawn Robinson recovered it one-handed on the second one and rambled a few yards toward the end zone before getting toppled while ex-Vols quarterback Peyton Manning watched stunned from the sidelines.
"I didn’t even see him running," Anderson said. "I was so hyped up, I took off the other way."
Coker finished 21 of 27 for 247 yards with an interception. Stewart had six catches for 114 yards.
Dobbs was 13 of 22 for 171 yards and a touchdown. Hurd gained 92 yards on 18 carries.
Both quarterbacks were sacked five times.
"I thought our team showed some grit, some determination and some resiliency on the road against a quality opponent, a top 10 opponent, in a hostile environment to go down and drive the ball and put us in a position to win," Vols coach Butch Jones said. "At the University of Tennessee, there are no moral victories."
Alabama has won the last nine meetings, and the Vols have dropped 24 straight against top 10 teams.
This one was anything but a mismatch in the long-running rivalry.
Tennessee kicker Aaron Medley missed a 43-yard attempt and two 51-yarders, one on the final play of the first half and the other early in the fourth quarter. Jones is standing by his kicker.
"Those were very difficult kicks, but there isn’t any other kicker that I want instead of Aaron," the coach said.
With the game tied 7-all, the Tide opened the second half with a 12-play drive, but Tennessee’s Cameron Sutton broke up a third-down pass in the end zone, forcing a 19-yard field goal by Adam Griffith. Griffith also made a 28-yarder with 7:08 left.
It was the latest slow start at Bryant-Denny. Alabama has trailed at the half against Arkansas and Mississippi in its other SEC home games while looking dominant on the road.
The Vols wound up with their fourth loss by a touchdown or less.
Tennessee started two freshmen on the offensive line, right guard Jack Jones and right tackle Chance Hall.
Alabama wore No. 28 stickers on their helmets honoring former teammate Altee Tenpenny, who died in a car accident on Tuesday.