No. 4 Alabama Beats Tennessee in Knoxville, 34-20
- Andrew Gribble, al.com
Oct. 25, 2014


 
Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper (9) takes off on the first play from scrimmage for a TD during the first quarter of the Alabama at Tennessee football game, Saturday, October 25, 2014, at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.
Photo Credit - Vasha Hunt/al.com
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee -- Lane Kiffin's return to Tennessee was the story before the game.

The most back and forth this rivalry's seen in years quickly took center stage and provided one of the more competitive versions of the Nick Saban-era Third Saturday in October series .

Alabama jumped on the Vols with 27 points in the first 18 minutes only to surrender 17 unanswered to give its cross-divisional foe the most hope it's had in this game in years. It took a vintage, clock-draining Crimson Tide scoring drive late in the third quarter to restore order and allow Alabama to escape without any late-game dramatics in its 34-20 victory.

"That was a heck of a game for both teams," Saban said. "Rivalry games can be that way."

Alabama's margin of victory was its smallest since Kiffin, who was greeted in expected, hostile fashion by Tennessee fans, was the Vols coach for the 2009, 12-10 thriller at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was easily its biggest, though, in a true road game this season, as the Crimson Tide offense snapped out of its relative funk away from home by striking fast and never trailing.

Blake Sims and Amari Cooper led the way and picked up the bulk of their yards in Alabama's 20-point first quarter. Cooper caught two long touchdown passes and amassed 185 of his program-record 224 yards in the first 15 minutes. Sims piled up more than 200 of his 286 passing yards in a quarter that saw Alabama pick up right where it left off from last week's 59-0 victory over Texas A&M.

"Blake has gotten better every single week," said Cooper, who broke Julio Jones' record for most receiving yards in a game (also against Tennessee) and is 1 yard away from breaking his single-season record for yards in a season.

"We've been able to develop some rhythm. Blake is a great person. That's what I love about him. He's very approachable, so if I see something, I can approach him about it and talk to him about it, and he'll follow through with it."

Alabama scored more points in Saturday's first quarter (20) than it did in either of its entire road games earlier this month. The Crimson Tide's 253 first-quarter yards were more than it had the whole game at Arkansas.

The momentum vanished in the middle, though, as Tennessee made adjustments on defense and made life miserable for Alabama's SEC-leading defense by converting third down after third down to creep back into the game.

"We relaxed a little bit," Saban said. "You've got to give Tennessee's guys a whole lot of credit because they sure didn't flinch and they didn't give up at all and they kept playing hard."

For the second time this season, Alabama struck with a touchdown on its first offensive play. Sims faked a handoff left, rolled to his right and found Cooper, who had yards of grass in front of him. Kiffin raced down the sidelines trying to keep up with Cooper, but no one was catching him on the 80-yard touchdown.

"I knew we were going to run the play," Cooper said. "When I ran out, I kind of thought I think the linebackers are going to blitz. I knew it was going to be a big gain, but I didn't know I was going to score."

Tennessee made Alabama work a little harder on its second possession but the result was the same. Sims hit Cooper with passes on third down twice before connecting for a pump-and-go 41-yard touchdown.

Another big pass to Cooper set up Alabama's third touchdown. Sims shook a defender to buy time outside of the pocket before he hit his favorite target with a 37-yard pass inside the Vols' 5-yard line. Three plays later, T.J. Yeldon was in the end zone with a 1-yard run.

Reggie Ragland popped Vols quarterback Josh Dobbs with a lethal hit and Eddie Jackson scooped up the fumble to set up another Alabama touchdown. Sims kept it himself on a 28-yard touchdown run, his second of that distance or longer in the past two games, to put the Crimson Tide ahead, 27-0.

It felt over, but it wasn't.

"We had an opportunity probably early in the game to put the game away and we didn't do it," Saban said. "You've got to give them a lot of credit for the resiliency that they showed in coming back in the game."

Alabama's defense came out strong, but struggled to stop Tennessee's quarterback-led running attack. Dobbs, who hadn't played a snap this season before Saturday's game, ran 10 times for 56 yards and the Vols, ranked last in the SEC in rushing offense, amassed 140 in the first half and 181 in the game.

Dobbs finished with 75 yards on 19 carries.

"It was a different quarterback than we were expecting," safety Landon Collins said. "We had to adjust our calls and then expected more runs."

Tennessee, which didn't score a touchdown in its previous two games against SEC competition, broke through in the second quarter. Dobbs hit Josh Malone with a back-shoulder, 9-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal with 7:03 to play in the first half.

The Vols knocked on the door near the end of the half, but Alabama stuffed them inside the red zone on third-and-1 to force a field goal.

Alabama didn't look much better to start the second half. The Crimson Tide did little on its first offensive possession and allowed the Vols to convert a number of third downs en route to a 9-yard Von Pearson touchdown catch. The Vols converted 11-of-19 third downs on the night.

Alabama's allowed a combined 26 third-down conversions in its three road games and just 14 in its five others.

"We definitely came out strong early," Collins said. "We had to get back into it. We had to show this game wasn't over with and they were coming back. We were fighting hard. We just showed we were ready and played dominant defense and continued all four quarters."

With Tennessee's sold-out crowd as loud as it was all game, Alabama silenced the majority of the 102,455 fans with a methodical, 13-play drive that milked 5:33 off the clock and ended with the Crimson Tide back on top by 17. After converting a handful of third downs against one of the nation's best third-down defenses, Derrick Henry broke through with a 28-yard touchdown run.

After a field goal drew the Vols within two touchdowns, Alabama mounted an 11-play, 78-yard drive that took more than 7 minutes off the clock but ended with a Jalston Fowler fumble.

"The only thing that matters is the clock," Saban said, "but it was a great drive."



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