KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The wait is over. The air is smokey and cloudy. And the field goal posts on Shields-Watkins Field are no longer in their appropriate spots. The Tennessee Volunteers have finally beaten a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team after a decade and a half of losing and misery after their 52-49 win on Saturday night.
The Vols came out with a clear plan in mind. Score quickly and score often. The offense did just that right from their opening drive en route to scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter. Jabari Small got the Vols on the scoreboard first punching it in from a yard out before Hendon Hooker found Jalin Hyatt in the endzone for a 36-yard touchdown pass. Hooker would find Hyatt one more time before the quarter ended giving Tennessee their most points in an opening quarter against Alabama since 1995.
The Crimson Tide got down by as many as 18 points in the first half, but eventually started to find a groove. Quarterback Bryce Young, who was a game time decision after suffering a shoulder sprain two weeks ago, delivered big throw after big throw to end the first half and to start the second half which got Alabama back to neutral ground. They tied the game 28-28 in the third quarter and started to look like the national championship contenders they’re known to be.
The Alabama offense came out in the third quarter and put a lot of pressure on the Vols defense early and often. Young threw for 129 of his game total 455 yards in the quarter leading the Crimson Tide on two touchdown drives stealing the momentum from the Vols.
The two rivals went in to the fourth quarter separated by a point where Young and Hooker would make their Heisman stock sky rocket. Both teams traded a few blows before Alabama seemed to take control scoring 14 unanswered points after a rare turnover from Hooker who fumbled the ball on an exchange with the running back. Dallas Turner picked it up for the Alabama defense and walked eleven yards into the endzone.
The Vols wouldn’t let it be a backbreaker, however, as they marched right back down the field and tied the game up with over three minutes remaining. Bryce Young then led a drive for Alabama that put them in position to take the lead on a potential game winning field goal attempt with fifteen seconds left on the clock. Kicker Will Reichard pushed it right.
Tennessee was left with minimal time on the clock but had good field position after the missed field goal from Alabama. Hooker threw two receptions to Jalin Hyatt and Bru McCoy, respectively, for a combined 45 yards that put Tennessee right in field goal territory with two seconds left on the clock. Kicker Chase McGrath put a 40-yard, ugly knuckleball kick just over and through the uprights ending fifteen long years of frustration for the Vols.
Whether fate or destiny, fifteen seemed to be the number of the day. The Tennessee Vols, with fifteen seconds left on the clock, snapped a fifteen game losing streak on a fifteenth of October they’re never going to forget. Oh, and it was number fifteen, McCoy, who caught the final pass to set it all up.
The matchup of Heisman quarterback candidates did not disappoint. Both quarterbacks compiled over 450 total yards for their respective teams as Hooker finished the day with 385 yards and five touchdowns through the air and an additional 56 yards on the ground. All five touchdown passes were to Hyatt, who set a new single game touchdown program record. Although Hooker did throw his first interception of the season, it took six games and 261 attempts.
Coach Josh Heupel after the game mentioned how big the win is for the program and how quickly he found out about the Alabama rivalry upon being hired at Tennessee saying it “was the first game I was made aware of when I got here.”
He emphasized how important he knew the rivalry was when he saw all the cigar smoke in Bryant-Denny Stadium last year while walking off the field. How did his first victory cigar in the rivalry go?
“I smoked it slow, but it was dang good.”
The Vols will look to move into the top-five of the next AP poll after the win against Alabama and will be back at Neyland Stadium next Saturday, October 22nd, as Tennessee will look to improve to 7-0 as they host the UT-Martin Skyhawks in their homecoming game.