Take your pick: Amazing, sensational, historic.
Tennessee’s fiercely determined Volunteers got a winning 40-yard field goal from Chase McGrath as time expired Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium. It was an ugly knuckleball that limped over the crossbar but stunned undisciplined Alabama, 52-49, and accomplished so much.
It stopped the Tide’s 15-year monopoly. It set off a spectacular celebration. It raised Tennessee’s record to 6-0 and might boost the Vols into national playoff conversation. Dozens of recruits must be wondering if college football gets any better anytime, anywhere.
“What an environment!” exclaimed Josh Heupel.
The full house was loud and rambunctious. The student section limited communications at the south end and may have been a factor in some of the 17 Alabama infractions that cost 130 yards.
This was an offensive show for the ages – 569 yards for Alabama, only two less for Tennessee.
Heisman hero Bryce Young, questionable because of an injured shoulder, emerged as very healthy, completed 25 passes for 455 yards, maneuvered brilliantly to avoid much of Tennessee’s rush and threw two touchdowns.
Hendon Hooker also had a Heisman look – 21 of 30 passes, 385 yards, five TDs to Jalin Hyatt. Hooker did lose two interceptions. One was erased by a penalty. A fumbled fourth-quarter handoff to Jabari Small cost a touchdown that looked like it could have cost the game. It put Alabama ahead, 49-42.
Hooker and the Vols answered. A pass interference penalty helped. The Tide bounced right back for what could have been the decisive field goal – and missed with 15 seconds to go. Tennessee, at the wrong end of the field, could have played for overtime. It went for the win.
Hooker threw to Ramel Keyton for 18. Bru McCoy made a big-boy catch for 27. McGrath, troubled by his first missed extra-point kick at Tennessee, hit the three-pointer. What happened next felt like an earthquake.
Fans, mostly students, streamed onto Shields-Watkins Field. Dr. Danny White will get to decide whether the fun was worth the conference fine.
Hyatt had a spectacular game. Alabama never figured out what to do about the receiver. His six catches produced 207 yards. His five touchdowns tied the Southeastern Conference record. Two Tide safeties now know they can’t run as fast as Jalin. For some reason, coaches never changed the defensive concept.
Tennessee got off to a 21-7 lead and disrupted Young’s rhythm with a fierce blitz package. Alabama adjusted the blocking scheme and the Vols suddenly developed worse than usual troubles in the secondary. They were playing without two regulars – injured corner Warren Burrell and safety Jaylen McCollough, out on bail after an arrest.
Alabama did not perform up to Nick Saban standards. The worst blunder was a misplayed punt. The ball was about to roll dead with Vols all around. For some reason, Quandarrius Robinson tried to pick it up. He touched the ball but didn’t grasp it. Christian Charles got it at the Alabama 40 on behalf of Tennessee.
Three plays later, the Vols cashed it in for a touchdown by Princeton Fant, tight end deployed as a fullback.
Tennessee didn’t have many defensive stars. Trevon Flowers made 11 tackles but most were not decisive. Tamarion McDonald had nine and Doneiko Slaughter had eight. His primary job was to shadow the quarterback and reduce scramble yardage.
Omari Thomas scored the only sack. Young threw 52 passes and only three were broken up.
Heupel was a wee bit emotional about the victory but declined personal credit. He said it was great for the program. He said the players kept playing hard when things went bad and that they deserved to win.
“This is for the fans,” said the coach. “This was an old-school heavyweight fight.”
The exchange fumble that gave Alabama a touchdown created a crisis.
“Our team didn’t blink,” said Heupel. “I was so proud.”
Saban was demonstrative at times but guarded in what he said.
“We have to learn from our mistakes.”
Goodwill gesture, great timing: Tennessee honored former Vol coach Bill Battle, former end under Paul “Bear” Bryant and retired athletic director for the Crimson Tide.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org