INSTANT ANALYSIS: Alabama extends winning streak over Tennessee
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Cigar smoke began to billow up from the student section of Bryant-Denny Stadium midway through the fourth quarter. By that time, No. 1 Alabama was well on its way to another win over Tennessee. The Crimson Tide defeated the Volunteers 45-7 on the afternoon, extending its winning streak to 11 straight games over its rival.
Alabama (8-0, 5-0 in the SEC) struggled on offense at times but was picked up by a strong performance from its defense as the Crimson Tide was able to limit Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 in the SEC) to just 108 yards of total offense.
Here are some notes from the game:
Running into a brick wall
Heading into the game Alabama head coach Nick Saban said John Kelly would be the best running back his team had gone up against this season. In reality, the Tennessee running back wasn’t much of a factor at all.
Kelly rushed for 63 yards on 12 carries Saturday, an average of 5.3 yards per touch. To be fair, the junior didn’t get much of an opportunity to make a difference. Tennessee’s offense ran 11 plays in the first quarter with Kelly receiving just two carries. The five-foot-9, 205-pound back didn’t make his presence felt until late in the second quarter when he picked up 18 yards on a draw play during the Volunteers final drive of the half. At that point, Tennessee was already trailing Alabama 21-0.
Alabama allowed the Volunteers just 64 yards on the ground, forcing Tennessee to become one dimensional and rely on freshman quarterback Jarrett Gaurantano.
Alabama entered the game with the nation’s top rushing defense, allowing opponents just 66.71 yards per game on the ground. Saturday was the seventh time Alabama has held an opponent to fewer than 100 yards on the ground this season. The only team to eclipse the century mark on the ground against the Crimson Tide is Colorado State, who rushed for 144 yards in Week 3.
Alabama stays perfect on fourth down
An Alabama trio of defensive linemen Da’Ron Payne, Quinnen Williams and offensive lineman Jedrick Wills came barreling onto the field, and the crowd inside Bryant-Denny Stadium erupted. Facing fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on its opening offensive possession of the game, Alabama elected to bring in its jumbo package and go for the touchdown.
The next play, running back Bo Scarbrough leap over the pile and into the end zone to give the Crimson Tide its first score of the game and a 7-0 lead. It was the same story in the second quarter as Alabama once again brought on its jumbo package for a fourth-and-goal at the 1. Just as he did in the first quarter, Scarbrough dove from the 3-yard line over the goal line to double the Crimson Tide’s lead at 14-0.
The two successful conversions give Alabama 11 on the season and keep the Crimson Tide perfect on fourth down for the year. Entering the game, Alabama was one of just three teams in the nation to be perfect on fourth-down conversions along with Michigan and Miami.
Another big day for Ridley
Another game, another milestone for Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley. The junior once again led Alabama in receiving, hauling in eight receptions for 82 yards. The performance moves him to second on Alabama’s career reception list with 202 catches. Amari Cooper is the school leader with 228 receptions from 2012-14.
Ridley has caught a pass in all 38 games of his Alabama career and ranks No. 3 in consecutive games with among active players in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Vols' defense does what offense can’t
Tennessee’s offense still can’t seem to find the end zone, but its defense did its part to end an ugly streak for the Volunteers. Tennessee linebacker Daniel Bituli stepped in front of a pass from Alabama backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at the Tennessee 3-yard line, returning the interception 97 yards for a touchdown to end a 12-quarter drought for Tennessee.
The Volunteers’ last touchdown before that came in the second quarter of its Week 4 win against UMass as quarterback Quinten Dormady hit Tyley Byrd for an 8-yard score. Following that game, the Volunteers were shutout 41-0 to Georgia before suffering a 13-9 loss to South Carolina.
Tennessee’s offense was a different story. The Volunteers had trouble moving the ball and couldn’t even find the end zone following a fumble recovery on a punt that gave them the ball at the Alabama 20-yard line in the fourth quarter.
It looked as if Kelly would finally put an end to the misery as he appeared to score on a second-and-goal from the Alabama 3-yard line. However, he was ruled down short after a replay. Following a false-start penalty, Kelly was stuffed on third down, setting up a fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line. Linebacker Mack Wilson completed the goal-line stand as he picked off Guarantano to record his third interception of the season.
Tennessee finished the game with just 108 yards of total offense and hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown in 14 straight quarters.
Ruggs adds to bizarre stat line
Alabama freshman receiver Henry Ruggs III added to one of the season’s most mind-boggling stats when he caught a 60-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa in the fourth quarter. The play gave Ruggs a team-leading five touchdowns on five career receptions as every one of his catches has gone for scores this season.
Earlier this week, Nick Saban was asked about the freshman’s ability to find the end zone, stating the answer to his success was pretty basic.
“He gets open and then he catches the ball,” Saban said. “We call plays that give him a chance to get open, so that gives him a chance to catch the ball and he gives the quarterback a chance to throw it to him... I think that’s what he’s supposed to do, that’s what the quarterback is supposed to do, that’s what we’re supposed to design and the more athletic and faster they are the harder they are to cover. Thems the kind of guys we want around here.”
Saturday it was a little more than that. Ruggs cut across the field before snatching a pass from Tagovailoa at the Tennessee 40-yard line. From there, the former track star shot down the sidelines untouched for a score.
Extending the streak
Here’s a list of a few things that were happening the last time Tennessee beat Alabama: George W. Bush was the president, the movie The Departed had just been released and Tennessee native Miley Cyrus was the star of a new Disney Channel show titled “Hannah Montana.” Here’s a list of the things that hadn’t happened yet: Smartphones, Twitter, Instagram, Alabama’s 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th national championships.
It’s been a while since Tennessee has had anything to celebrate following the Third Saturday in October. Alabama’s 11 straight wins match the series’ longest streak set by Alabama from 1971-81. Games like the one played Saturday make the streak seem even longer. Alabama’s 45-7 victory was its ninth double-digit victory over that span. It was also the sixth time Alabama has scored 40 or more points during the streak. The Crimson Tide has outscored the Volunteers 396-126 over the span of the streak.
Alabama holds a 55-37-8 all-time lead in the series.