It was a scrappy, back-and-forth battle for three quarters of play, but No. 4 Alabama used a 28-point fourth quarter performance to defeat Tennessee, 52-24, on Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker completed 19-of-28 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns. He hit a pair of deep balls for scores, linking up with Cedric Tillman for 70 yards and JaVonta Payton for 57 yards. Tillman finished with seven catches for 152 yards.
A normally strong rushing attack was shut down by the eighth-best rushing defense. The Vols were held to 64 yards on the ground, representing the first time this season UT was held under 100-yards rushing.
Tennessee (4-4, 2-3 SEC) received the opening kick, but couldn’t put anything together in its first possession, going 3-and-out. The Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1) capitalized, marching 85 yards in 12 plays and taking 5:24 off the clock that culminated with Brian Robinson Jr.’s 7-yard score.
The Volunteer offense did not take long to strike back, however, as Hooker marched them down the field in seven plays. He found Velus Jones Jr. on an 8-yard strike that knotted the score at seven apiece.
On the ensuing possession, Alabama missed a 52-yard field goal, and a Tennessee drive was extended when Paxton Brooks was roughed for a personal foul. Coach Josh Heupel immediately dialed up a shot as Hooker found Payton in stride down the left side of the field for a 57-yard touchdown to put UT ahead 14-7 with 0:26 remaining in the first quarter.
Trailing 21-14 at the half, Tennessee’s defense came out strong in the second half and forced back-to-back three-and-outs. Kamal Hadden blew up a bubble screen to force an Alabama punt on their second drive. De’Shawn Rucker came screaming off the right edge, and blocked James Burnip’s punt setting the Vols up in great position. Tennessee settled for a field goal, narrowing the deficit to 21-17.
The Crimson Tide’s offense was slowed for much of the quarter as Alabama managed only a field goal. They scored their first touchdown of the second half on a Bryce Young 6-yard run.
Hooker and the Volunteer offense responded. He found Jalin Hyatt on the first play of the next drive for five yards. That set up the homerun play as Tillman hauled in a 70-yard touchdown catch with 14:30 left in the game.
Alabama’s methodical rushing attack was too persistent for the Tennessee defense, rattling off 21 unanswered for the final score.
Defensively, Jeremy Banks led all tacklers with 12, while Matthew Butler finished with 1.5 tackles for loss.
The Vols head into their open week seeking to get healthy. They return to action on Nov. 6 at Kentucky. The kickoff time will be announced next week.