Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
DJ Hall (22) and John Parker Wilson celebrate an Alabama touchdown in the Tide’s 41-17 win over Tennessee in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Both players had record-setting days. Hall caught 13 passes, and Wilson completed 32 of 46 for 363 yards and three touchdowns.
A rival rout
Tide rolls up 41 points, 510 yards on Vols
By Josh Cooper
TUSCALOOSA — As 92,138 fans emptied out of Bryant-Denny Stadium, the scent of victory cigars wafted through the corridors below the stands — a familiar smell since the 1950s whenever Alabama beats Tennessee.
At about 3 p.m., the sun continued its descent on an almost surreal setting — a Crimson Tide 41-17 blowout of the rival Vols after an 11:30 a.m. kickoff, and the dark cloud brewing over the suspension of five Tide players.
Offensive lineman Antoine Caldwell, running back Glen Coffee, right guard Marlon Davis, cornerback Marquis Johnson and special teams player Chris Rogers did not play because of “violations of institutional policy involving permissible receipt of textbooks,” according to the school.
Even so, Alabama coach Nick Saban used the issue as a way to motivate his team.
Apparently, it worked. Alabama grabbed an early 10-0 lead, took a 24-17 advantage into intermission and shut out the Vols in the second half.
The Crimson Tide offense rolled up 510 yards, and three players enjoyed career days. John Parker Wilson completed 32 of 46 passes for a career-high 363 yards, while DJ Hall set a Tide record with 13 receptions, which he turned into 185 yards and two touchdowns. Place-kicker Leigh Tiffin made a career-high four field goals out of five attempts.
After Alabama (6-2, 4-1 SEC) beat the Vols (4-3, 2-2) in Saban’s first Tide-UT contest, the coach let down his steely demeanor for a few seconds, getting somewhat choked up at the end of his opening comments.
“What really makes me feel best is when you challenge somebody to do something, to give their best to do it, and they do it and you see how happy it makes them,” Saban said. “To know that they kind of did their best to be the best that they can be, that’s what we did today as a team.”
During the week leading up to this game, Saban said he wouldn’t understand the meaning of the rivalry until he actually lived it. There were no sounds of “Rocky Top” at the Tide’s football facility and no orange tackling dummies in practice.
Throughout the game, he was a little feistier, arguing with the referees and chewing out players, especially Tiffin after a botched squib kick at the end of the first half that led to a Tennessee field goal.
With all the hubbub of the rivalry and the suspensions, following the game, three points were crystal clear:
The largest victory for Alabama over a Phillip Fulmer-coached Tennessee team.
The biggest win against Tennessee since a 28-point victory in Knoxville in 1986.
A guaranteed tie for first place in the SEC Western Division when LSU comes to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 3.
“I wanted to win for the players today and our fans today,” Saban said. “I wanted to see them do what I knew they were capable of doing. I just thought that my intensity might help them keep theirs.”
Earlier in the week, when asked about the 2001 SEC championship between his LSU Tigers and the Vols, Saban pointed to a fourth-and-inches play. Saban chose to go for it, and even though the Tigers didn’t get it, it gave them confidence the rest of the game to pull out a victory.
There was a similar moment right off the bat in this game. The Crimson Tide lost the opening coin toss, and Tennessee elected to receive.
Jamie Christensen bounced an onside kick, and Tide linebacker Demarcus Waldrop recovered it.
The Crimson Tide got a 39-yard field goal by Tiffin from the risky move and the play perked up the Crimson Tide and its fans.
Then, something else perked up in the Crimson Tide, which poured it on in the final 30 minutes.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Alabama running back Terry Grant (29) slips past Tennessee’s Brent Vinson (13) and Ryan Karl on his way to 108 yards rushing Saturday.
With Alabama up 24-17 and Tennessee driving on the Tide 36-yard line, Tide cornerback Kareem Jackson intercepted quarterback Erik Ainge at the Alabama 10-yard line.
The Crimson Tide settled for a 20-yard Tiffin field goal on the ensuing drive to make it a 27-17 game and then he kicked a 42-yard field goal with 2:12 left in the third to put the game at 30-17.
With 1:02 remaining in the third quarter, Wilson went to work. The much-maligned quarterback orchestrated a 10-play, 82-yard drive, hitting big plays to Hartselle’s Nikita Stover (19-yard reception), a screen pass to Roy Upchurch for 22 yards and a
16-yard completion to Matt Caddell. The drive culminated with 5:30 left in the game when Terry Grant ran into the end zone for 8 of his 104 yards to bring on the rout at 38-17 after the 2-point conversion.
Afterward, Wilson recalled a conversation he had with Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, who played quarterback at Texas.
“He and I were talking and walking to the bus to come down here and we were like, ‘These are the kind of big games everybody remembers,’ and people come up to you 10 years from now,” Wilson said. “Sometimes we have a good first quarter, a good third quarter or a good fourth quarter and never really put it together.
“Coach Saban really preached putting it together for 60 minutes, and we did that today.”
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