A week after thrashing Mississippi State on the road by 40 points, No. 4 Alabama found itself in a fight at home Saturday night against Tennessee for three quarters. Ultimately, the Crimson Tide pulled away late for a 52-24 victory. The game was tight into the fourth quarter until Jaylin Armour-Davis intercepted a pass from Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker with 11:02 remaining and ran it back 47 yards to set up an Alabama touchdown.
Armour-Davis' interception, which helped Alabama go ahead 45-24, constituted the Crimson Tide's biggest defensive highlight, and QB Bryce Young provided plenty of offensive highlights. The redshirt freshman completed 31 of 43 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Young also ran for two scores as the Tide excelled on third downs by converting 14 of 19 to extend drives and slowly break the will of a Tennessee defense that eventually ceded 574 total yards. Running back Brian Robinson added 107 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The victory improves Alabama coach Nick Saban to 15-0 against Tennessee since he began coaching the Crimson Tide in 2007, and it makes Josh Heupel the sixth Tennessee coach to lose to Saban in the rivalry. It also keeps Alabama firmly in the driver's seat for the SEC West title and in the College Football Playoff conversation as it gears up for the stretch run of the schedule. After getting a bye next week, the Tide have home games against LSU, New Mexico State and Arkansas before closing with a road game at Auburn.
Bryce Young does have wheels
Young has been a hesitant runner early in his tenure at Alabama, preferring instead to let his passing ability carry him into the Heisman Trophy conversation. But with his arm talent well-established, Young has started flashing his dual-threat prowess successfully the past two weeks. Both of his touchdown runs came on third-down scrambles Saturday as Young showed his comfort with improvising on broken plays.
He also converted two more third downs with his legs, both of which led to Alabama scores shortly thereafter. Young's 42 yards on the ground won't jump off the box score, but a week after he began stretching the Mississippi State defense with his legs, Young took that element of his game to a new level on Saturday.
Success on third down is key
Young also used his arm to help Alabama convert on several third down plays as the Tide slowly wore down a Tennessee defense that played well at times before breaking in key moments. One key example of Alabama's third-down prowess came early in the fourth quarter after Tennessee closed the gap to 31-24. The Volunteers stuffed Robinson on consecutive runs to set up a third-and-15. It looked for a moment as if the Volunteers might get the football back with a chance to tie after their offense had just connected on a 70-yard touchdown from Hooker to Cedric Tillman. But then, as he did so often Saturday, Young delivered.
His 65-yard strike to Jameson Williams moved the chains and set up a Robinson touchdown run on the following play. The score extended Alabama's lead back to 14 and flipped the momentum back to the Tide. Alabama ranked third nationally in third down conversion percentage at 55% entering the game. After converting 73.7% attempts against the Volunteers, that figure will only go up.
Special teams blunders
It wasn't all roses for Alabama, though. Saban will have plenty to critique during the bye week, and special teams play will be at the top of the list. Tennessee took a 14-7 lead in the first quarter after a roughing the punter penalty on Alabama's Chris Braswell allowed the Volunteers to retain possession. Hooker found WR JaVonta Payton for a 57-yard touchdown strike two plays later.
Alabama dealt with its second massive special teams miscue of the game in the third quarter, when James Burnip had a punt blocked to set Tennessee up in the red zone. The Volunteers failed to move the ball and settled for a field goal. But 10 of Tennessee's 24 points could be directly traced to special teams errors, which is uncharacteristic for Alabama.