(1) Alabama 12 Tennessee 10: Game Summary
Attendance (Bryant-Denny Stadium): 92,012
I’m back. Somewhat rested. Still wondering what to make of it all. But in the spirit of moving forward, here’s the game recap, possession by possession.
But first, a word from our… Oops. Technical difficulties. Do not try to adjust your set. Or your headset…
Right before kickoff, it becomes apparent that the Tennessee coaching staff is discussing the possible sabotage of their headsets. Yes, it is just a coincidence, I’m sure. Faulty wiring or just a bad connector. Right. So the officials rule that both teams’ staffs must remove the headsets until the “problem is fixed.” The “problem” is “fixed” after only a couple of plays.
A red rat chewing through a wire no doubt…
Alabama gets the ball first on a Tennessee kickoff, and it doesn’t take long for this rivalry to get heated up but good: Eric Berry lays the leather on Tide QB Greg McElroy and Bama has to punt: three and out. The Vols get the game’s first first down on a nice pass from Jonathan Crompton to Denarius Moore running a slant pattern over the middle. But Hardesty is stifled on the next series and we punt them the ball back.
Now the first drive of any measure. Alabama mix run and pass well and find themselves in Tennessee territory at the 42. But McElroy looks like Crompton against UCLA and the Tide can’t convert on a 4th and 5 at the Vol 35.
Right out of the chute, Crompton is now the new Jonathan. He fires a spot-on throw to Montario Hardesty who is racing down the right sideline for a 26-yard gain and the Tide surely knows it actually is in a game. But on 2nd down, a play action scheme immediately breaks down when Hardesty chooses to block a cornerback on a blitz rather than breaking into the open as a receiver, and DB Mark Barron intercepts Crompton’s overthrown pass for a 1st and 10 at the Bama 30.
First appearance of the Wildcat Formation. RB Trent Richardson gets 4 and Mark Ingram gets 8 and then 25 out of the single-wing-type setup and with the addition of a Vol penalty for an illegal block, Bama are in Vol territory. The Vols hold but for Dennis Rogan’s pass interference give the Tide a 1st down at the Vol 27. But Alabama can’t take advantage of their fortune, mainly because of continued bad passes by their QB McElroy, and Alabama settle for Leigh Tiffin’s first FG of the afternoon, a 38-yard conversion. ALABAMA 3 TENNESSEE 0.
The quarter ends right after another nice slant pass rout by Hardesty results in a 27-yard gain followed by Bryce Brown’s 7-yard gain up the middle that gives Tennessee 2nd and 3 at the Bama 34. The game has settled into an affair surely to be won by the side with the most strength of body and heart.
Unfortunately for the Vols, they can’t convert a golden opportunity to jam it to the Tide’s endzone. After another successful pass to a receiver running a slant rout, this time to Denarius Moore, the Vols have a 1st and Goal at the Tide 8. But David Oku gets only 2 on a run off left guard, and two incomplete passes leave it to Daniel Lincoln to convert a 24-yard field goal to get the Big Orange even. ALABAMA 3 TENNESSEE 3.
Bama starts their next possession with excellent field possession at their own 45 yard line. A mix of run and pass get the Tide a 1st and 10 at the Vol 30. But here, the Tennessee defense holds strong helped by good pressure by Vol Dl Dan Williams and a curious call on 3rd and 10 where Tide QB is asked to throw a whimper pass out to the right flank on a 3rd and 10. On comes Leigh Tiffin who nails a 50 yard field goal to get the Tide back on top. ALABAMA 6 TENNESSEE 3.
The Vols do nothing with the next possession. Hardesty continues to be stuffed on the run, and a couple of incomplete passes result in Chad Cunningham doing his best impersonation of a rugby kicker to keep the ball away from the dangerous Javier Arenas.
And Alabama get back to the Wildcat Formation. Instead of defending with DBs dropped back, Monte Kiffin stuffs the box. But, Tide RB star Mark Ingram still gets his yards. Taking the snap directly, he runs for 5, 7, 4, and 4 more interspersed with conventional sets from which Bama effectively pass the ball to put the Tide at the Vol 12. Ingram runs a sweep left for 8, and now Alabama are making the Vol defense gasping for air. 2nd down and 2 at the Vol 5. But more curious play calling move Bama away from their physical pounding attack style. Instead. Nick Saban chooses to have McElroy throw a couple of weak floaters. Nick: you have the Orange defense reeling. What in heaven’s name are you doing? But thanks. We Vols appreciate the respect. The first pass was thrown high toward WR Julio Jones near the left goal line pylon. Problem was that Dennis Rogan and Jones, depending on your point of view, ran into each other. A clamoring for interference went for naught. And Leigh Tiffin converts his third field goal of the first half, this one from 22 yards. ALABAMA 9 TENNESSEE 3.
After a first down with Hardesty runs of 7 and 5, on comes the reborn Jonathan Crompton. With only 0:38 left in the half and the ball at the Vol 43, Crompton hits Gerald Jones for 11 and then 13 with pinpoint throws. Timeout. 10 seconds remain. Pass to Gerald Jones again for a short gain. 2nd and 7 at the Tide 30. Timeout with 1 second left. Perfect 2-minute drill execution. But Daniel Lincoln’s 47 yard attempt is a foot short of the crossbar, and lost opportunities by both sides leaves us with a tight affair at the half.
Musings on the First Half
A few observations and bits of information from the first half…
- Possession: Alabama 18 minutes / Tennessee 12 minutes. No wonder the Vol defense looked gassed at the end of Bama’s last possession.
- Alabama rushing: 19/99 yards. 5.2 yards per carry. Ingram with 72 yards.
- Tennessee rushing: 13/33 yards. 2.5 yards per carry. Hardesty with 19 yards.
- Passing states were fairly even, although Crompton looked really good for the most part. McElroy looked anything but good. Tennessee: 8 for 15/117 yards. Alabama: 13 for 23/88 yards.
- Alabama makes a 50 yard FG. Tennessee misses a 47 yard attempt.
- Alabama cashes in on the game’s only turnover (an interception) with a field goal.
- Third-down efficiency was pretty even: Tennessee 2 of 5. Alabama 5 of 10.
- Alabama is giving Hardesty and Company absolutely nothing between the tackles. Will the Vols be able to run the ball around the corners against a quick and powerful Tide defense?
- Tennessee is equally stuffing Alabama’s run game – but only out of the Tide’s base setup. It’s a different story with Alabama running out of the Wildcat formation. Base set: 12 carries for 44 yards. Wildcat Formation: 7 carries for 56 yards. Ingram runs for 52 yards on 6 carries alone. Why Alabama runs the Wildcat for only 2 plays in the second half is anybody’s guess. I would have tried to pound the Vols into submission with that formation as many times as it took to see if Tennessee could stop it for at least two consecutive plays. Curious doesn’t begin to explain it.
Tennessee opens with a three-and-out offensive series. Chad Cunningham again goes the rugby route with his punt, but the route can’t keep it away from the dangerous Javier Arenas. Near his left sideline, Arenas is surrounded by orange pants, but nevertheless manages to escape and then going 45 degrees to the right gives Bama the ball 1st and 10 at the Vol 42. And after seeing the Tennessee defense hanging by the threads the size of oxygen tubing to end the first half, you got the feeling that your biggest fear was about to be realized.
But that is not this year’s defense. This crew is, well, let’s just say, even Nick Saban might think they’re quality.
After WR Darius Hanks gets 8 yards along the sideline, RB Roy Upchurch gets stuffed at the line of scrimmage resulting in a 3 yard loss, leaving the Tide 4th and 5 and no choice but a punt.
Crompton opens the series with a mirror image of his performance against Georgia two weeks ago – play action, naked bootleg roll and a completed pass for a 15 yard gain. On the next set, the Vols are left with a 4th and 1 at the Tennessee 44, and showing how these are not Fulmer’s Vols anymore, Kiffin calls for a QB sneak, which Crompton delivers gladly for a first down. After a tough and ineffective first half, Montario Hardesty shows his beautiful self, fighting, scraping, and clawing for 8 yards up the middle. After a 4-yard run by Bryce Brown and a nice play-action pass to Austin Johnson to the right, its time for more Montario. On 2nd and 6, he makes 3 out of nothing and then gets 4 on 3rd with more fighting then you’ll ever see at any mixed martial arts match.
I absolutely love Montario Hardesty. He may not have Ingram’s yardage, yet he’s infinitely more fun to watch.
But the drive completely unravels for Tennessee. 1st and 10 at the Alabama 31, the Vols can’t convert on a nifty trick wheel route pass to Cooper on the right. Then, what I think is one of the biggest plays of the afternoon that will likely go forgotten because of the stunning developments to come later, Tide DB Javier Arenas comes into the Vol backfield like a lightening bolt and sacks Crompton before he know what happened. A massive 12-yard loss to push the Vols out of albeit the upper end of FG range. Then, an offensive (very offensive) delay of game penalty pushes Tennessee back 5 more yards and the drive whimpers away, and the Vols punt the pill back to Bama.
Starting at their own 27, Alabama can’t quite get anything. On 3rd and 1, the Vol DL stuffs a QB sneak attempt, forcing the Tide to quickly punt it back. The Vols go to work where on 3rd and 4, a pass straight out to the right on a “bubble screen” play to Teague results in a 13 yard gain for a first down. Immediately, Crompton strikes with a play action pass (this time staying in the pocket instead of his new-signature rollout) over the middle to Denarius Moore. As the third quarter ends, Bama now knows that their nasty neighbors from the north have come to T-Town to give them everything they could ask for. First and 10 at the Alabama 30. And it’s the Vol sideline that now is raising their hands skyward, pointing to the heavens with a four-finger salute.
Fourth Quarter – A Finale for All Time
After losing two yards on the first play of the final stanza, freshman RB Bryce Brown gets 10 off left tackle to set up Hardesty’s attempt at 3rd and short. But when the dust cleared, the chains showed the Vols short by about an inch. Another 4th down QB sneak took care of that shortage. Now Bama was really looking into the mouth of the lion. Their undefeated season really was beginning to look vulnerable. And the Vol faithful had to be hyperventilating with the thoughts of what might be.
But again, the drive stalled. No, it self-destructed. 1st and 10 at the Bama 19. False start penalty on the left end. Then its Hardesty getting 7 yards out of completely nothing, and you think that the senior running back will not let us kill ourselves. But the suicidal tendencies are hard to overcome. On a short gain by Bryce Brown on 2nd and 8, we’re called for offensive holding. And on 2nd and 18, bama brings the house to harass Crompton, but Jonathan somehow escapes, rolls left and fires a pass that is broken up by the Tide secondary. Time out, Tennessee, to try to put air back in the balloon at the same time as it is leaking out through a big self-inflicted stab wound.
On 3rd and 18 at the Bama 27, Crompton sees nothing open and throws a dinker to preserve field-goal range. So, after moving the ball from the Vol 21 to the Bama 30 in 4 plays to finish the 3rd Quarter, Tennessee uses 8 plays to get a net 3 additional yards to get the final quarter moving. Talk about start and stop driving. And we’re left with a Daniel Lincoln 43-yard FG attempt to try and put us within 3.
I instantly remembered Lincoln’s smothered FG attempt against Auburn earlier in the year. If you are a golfer, you know about “coming over the top.” That’s what Daniel did in Neyland Stadium a few weeks ago against the Tigers. And I’m thinking to myself, “that 47-yard attempt in the first half is going to come back to haunt us.” Not because we missed getting 3 points, but because it was short of the cross bar. He’s going to try to get some extra power into this one. The think about blocked kicks is that you really never are given an opportunity to see how the kicker actually connected. Did he get the sweet spot only to have it blocked with a great effort on the part of a lineman. Well, this one was of the smothered, coming-over-the-top variety. This one was so bad that the Tide’s sophomore DL from Ft. Myers, Florida, Terrence Cody, all 365 pound of him, damned near fell on the ball rather than blocked it. Yes, he got through the line, and yes he had his left arm up in the air. But Lincoln’s kick didn’t hit Cody’s hand or arm. It bored into his left rib cage below his armpit with the sound of a loud thump as if Mike Tyson had just struck a punching bag as hard as a human can. That Terrence Cody is one massive dude.
Needless to say, another opportunity for the Vols had gone unfulfilled. Even though the Tide offense had produced no first downs in the second half, the soulless Bryant-Denny Stadium erupted in sheer relief/joy, for the Tide were still holding onto their dream for a national championship, and were holding their hated rival at bay.
With Bama taking over at their own 37, the game was theirs for the taking. After two first downs on 4 plays, the Tide were into Vol territory. But the Vol defense made another big play, getting into the backfield quickly to pull down RB Trent Richardson for a 2-yard loss. Then after a 3-yard gain on a quick pass to the right flank, the Tide faced 3rd and 9 at the Vol 37. This time, the Big Orange defense called on help from somebody not wearing orange and white. QB McElroy hit RB Roy Upchurch over the middle who promptly ran straight into the Umpire, limiting his gain to only 6 yards instead of a certain first down to keep the drive alive.
So, the Tide once again called on their senior kicker from Muscle Shoals, who remained perfect for the afternoon by nailing a 49-yard field goal to give the Tide was was seemingly the game with only 6:31 left in the contest. ALABAMA 12 TENNESSEE 3.
The Vols start their last gasp drive from their own 34, but can only gain 6 yards on 3 plays. Tide DL Marcell Dareus made sure of that by swatting down a Crompton pass at the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 4. So Chad Cunningham, rugby-punter extraordinare, comes in to lay a beauty on Bama, landed uncaught on the Vols’ right side and proceeding to roll, and roll, and roll all the way down to the Tide’s 4 yard line! A turnover here should would change the climate of this game that now had only 5:21 of life remaining.
On first down, Mark Ingram somehow found a crack in the line over near LG and spurted through like pulp coming out of a squeezed lemon. (Actually, Eric Berry missed Ingram at the LOS, but, details, details…) What almost happened did not – Ingram came within somebody’s hand of breaking that run for 96 yards and a lasting highlight reel to the nation that would shurely be played again and again and again in his quest for the Heisman Trophy. Instead, he got the Tide out of their own back corner with a 15 yard gain and some needed breating room. But the Tide couldn’t convert on the next series. The Vol defense once again came through with a great stop on 3rd and 4. Perhaps now the real last chance for the Big Orange was for a Big Turnover. They went for it. But punter Thomas Heath got it away and the two Vol rushers got to Heath who came down like a ton of bricks.
Possession retained for the Crimson Tide. First down, Alabama, at their own 37 with only 3:43 left. Surely the game is now lost for the Vols. Except that the turnover that was hoped for on the previous play came in a most unexpected fashion on the next one. Tide RB Mark Ingram, who had not lost a fumble in his Tide career – 0 lost fumbles in 321 touches – was gang-tackled by 4 Vol defenders, including Eric Berry and Rico McCoy. Hard to say who put had and/or hat to the ball, but it squirted out of Ingram’s grasp just before mark’s knee hit the ground, and Berry was at the bottom of a very intense pile of Vols and Elephants with the ball in his grasp.
And just like that, our lost chance had resurrected itself out of the bowels of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Somehow. But only 3:29 left at the Bama 43 needing two scores. Is there time left? It surely didn’t look like it on the first play. Again, the Bama defense comes up huge. Marcell Darius simply manhandles Jonathan Crompton and stuffes him to the turf for a 7-yard loss. Oh well. Except that on 2nd and 17, Hardesty collects a screen pass and makes a terrific run for a 16 yard gain, and Bryce Brown quickly follows with a 1 yard run for a first down at the Bama 33 yard line. Crompton then finds Denarius Moore for 8 yards and Bryce Brown again follows with 9 through the middle of the Tide defense. First and 10 on the Tide 16. Brown again, but this time the Alabama defense dropps him for a 2-yard loss, and the Vols take a time out with only 1:46 left. Seems impossible.
But Crompton continues to shrug off his detractors with a completion to his tight end Luke Stocker in the left flat for a 7 yard gain. And now the Vols look in a hurry with 3rd and 5. And Gerald Jones finds space on his route up the middle, Crompton picks him out perfectly, and Tennessee have improbably scored the game’s first touchdown. Lincoln’s extra point now makes the game in reach, except that there is only 1:19 left, and the Vols are kicking off. ALABAMA 12 TENNESSEE 10.
Student-body left on the kickoff formation. All 92,000 in the stadium knows what is up, like squaring to bunt while the pitcher is still in his stretch. Lincoln lines up far right of the ball on its tee, and kicks it into the ground to make it wiggle and squirm upward into the air. It looks like there is no way that it will travel the required 10 yards. But the pigskin hits the ground, gets the needed distance, nobody in a Crimson jersey touches it, and the junior from Tatum, Texas, Number 6, Denarius Moore, is cradling the ball in his arms at the ‘Bama 39.
Unbelievable pandemonium breaks out on the Vol sideline.
Quickly, Compton comes out firing, but his first pass attempt falls incomplete as he is hit and nearly sacked. But on the second play, Crompton on his now-signature play action, naked bootleg, roll to the right finds the mercurial Gerald Jones for a 15 yard gain into Alabama territory. And the Vols have it 1st and 10.
In yet another attempt at suicide, the Vols are called for motion – a false start is called against OL Jacques McClendon, pushing the ball back to the mid-field stripe. Next, Crompton’s pass attempt is tipped high into the air at the line, left to hang weightless for what seems to be a minute or two, but drops harmlessly to the ground. Then, 2nd and 15, Crompton drills a pass down the field and a bit to the right where his tight end Luke Stocker makes a body-twist in the air to catch the ball and somehow hang on after instantly receiving a body-jarring blow to his shoulder. Incredible play for a much-needed 23 yard gain. Now the Vols are trying to gain a few extra yards to get a little deeper into field goal range. But Hardesty gains nothing, and Crompton quickly spikes the ball on the next set, and the Vols have the ball at the Alabama 27-yard line with 0:04 left on the clock, and a chance to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Alabama-Tennessee series and in all of Vol history.
The spot of the kick will be right between the 34 and 35 yard line making the game-winner a 44-yarder. When Lincoln lines up, Tide coach Nick Saban calls a time out to freeze the Vol place kicker, to perhaps give him more time to think about the crimson wall over which he will have to lift the ball to give his team a chance at an upset that will absolutely ruin the Tide’s season.
When Daniel Lincoln lined himself up for The Kick, I looked at his face through the bars – had had a nice, calm demeanor about him. And I stopped screaming at my TV, because he somehow made me calm, too. I thought, “He’s gonna make this son of a bitch.”
But instead, what happened will be preserved as a photograph that will no doubt be hanging on a few walls throughout the state of Alabama in the coming days. Lincoln’s kick wasn’t as low as his previous attempt in the early part of this final quarter, but it was low enough to allow the same sophomore defensive lineman, Terrance Cody, to get his hand on the ball. And with a thud that was louder than the first block, the mountain that the Vols were trying to climb was renamed Mounty Cody for all time.
The young mountain-man immediately ripped off his helmet and began running for air with the emotion of relief painted on his face. Tears were only seconds from pouring out of his eyes. For Terrance Cody has written another page in the long and illustrious history of this grand rivalry with moments that will live for decades in the minds of the Crimson Tide supporters. And in the minds of the Vol faithful, too. At least until revenge can be extracted from the flesh of the red elephant.
I’m already thinking about October 2010 in Knoxville with much anticipation. Can you blame me?
1:22 Leigh Tiffin kicks a 38 yard field goal. ALA 3 TENN 0. The FG capped a 10 play, 49 yard drive lasting 3:24.
11:38 Daniel Lincoln kicks a 24 yard field goal. GOOOOOOD! ALA 3 TENN 3. The FG capped a 10 play, 63 yard drive lasting 4:39.
7:54 Leigh Tiffin kicks a 50 yard field goal. ALA 6 TENN 3. The FG capped a 7 play, 23 yard drive lasting 3:28.
1:11 Leigh Tiffin kicks a 22 yard field goal. ALA 9 TENN 3. The FG capped a 12 play, 64 yard drive lasting 5:30.
6:31 Leigh Tiffin kicks a 49 yard field goal. ALA 12 TENN 3. The FG capped a 7 play, 31 yard drive lasting 4:02.
1:19 Gerald Jones catches a Jonathan Crompton pass over the middle and scores an 11 yard TD. GIVE HIM SIX! TOUCHDOWN TENNESSEE! Daniel Lincoln kicks the extra point. GOOOOOOD! ALA 12 TENN 10. The TD capped an 8 play, 43 yard drive lasting 2:10.
Scoreboard – 2009 Opponents
- Arkansas 17 Mississippi 30
- Kent State 20 Ohio 11
- Western Kentucky 24 Middle Tennessee 62
- UCLA 13 Arizona 27
- Vanderbilt 10 (23)South Carolina 14
- Louisiana-Monroe 13 Kentucky 36
- Auburn 10 (9)LSU 31
- (2)Florida 29 Mississippi State 19
- East Carolina __ Memphis __ [Tuesday Oct 27]
- Georgia BYE WEEK