Tennessee went toe-to-toe with No. 1 Alabama on Saturday night in front of a capacity crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium, but was plagued by penalties and missed opportunities inside the red zone in a 35-13 loss to the defending SEC champions.
The Vols held the Crimson Tide’s high-powered offense to season lows in points (35), passing yards (233) and total yards (373), but were penalized 13 times for 93 yards and had to settle for field goals twice in the red zone.
Nigel Warrior led UT with six tackles and an interception that set up UT’s lone touchdown. It was the third pick of the year for Warrior and just the second interception thrown by Bama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa this season. Of the 10 interceptions Tagovailoa has thrown in his career, two have come against the Vols.
Junior running back Tim Jordan led Tennessee’s attack with 17 carries for 94 yards while Jauan Jennings hauled in six catches for 66 yards to move into 10th in career receptions in program history. Jennings now has 122 catches and passed Larry Seivers for 10th on the all-time list.
For the second straight game, the Big Orange were forced to use multiple quarterbacks after starter Brian Maurer had to leave the game with an injury.
Maurer was 5-for-7 for 62 yards and also added a rushing touchdown before having to leave the game. His 2-yard rushing score in the first quarter was the first by a UT quarterback against Alabama since Casey Clausen’s game-winning 1-yard touchdown in the fifth overtime of Tennessee’s 51-43 win over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa in 2003.
Jarrett Guarantano completed just 7-of-16 passes for 55 yards while redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout was 0-for-1 on the night after taking over on the final two drives.
Tagovailoa was also forced to leave the game early after sustaining an apparent lower-leg injury in the second quarter. He finished the night 11-of-12 for 155 yards and an interception. Backup quarterback Mac Jones went 6-for-11 for 72 yards after taking over for Tagovailoa.
With Tagovailoa out, the Tide leaned on their running game and junior running back Najee Harris, who had a game-high 105 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Alabama finished with 140 yards on the ground for the game.
Junior kicker Brent Cimaglia made both of his field goal attempts to account for the rest of the Vols’ points.
After going up 7-0, it looked like the Crimson Tide were going to add to the lead on their second drive after intercepting a bobbled pass on UT’s second possession, but Warrior intercepted an errant pass by Tagovailoa at the goal line and returned it 59 yards into Alabama territory.
Six plays later, Maurer scored on a 2-yard quarterback sneak to put the Vols on the board before Cimaglia’s extra point tied the game at seven.
The Tide answered with another scoring drive to retake the lead. Harris had five rushes for 28 yards on the drive while Henry Ruggs III reeled in an 18-yard pass from Tagovailoa to help set up a 9-yard touchdown run by Brian Robinson Jr. with 2:46 remaining in the opener quarter.
The Big Orange responded yet again with an 11-play scoring drive. Jordan busted loose for a 33-yard gain down the left side and the Vols reached the 5-yard line before a couple of penalties stalled the drive. Cimaglia nailed a 37-yard field goal to cut the deficit to four. Unfortunately, Maurer was forced to leave the game earlier in the drive and did not return after sustaining an injury for the second straight week.
Another long pass play from Tagovailoa to Ruggs set up the Tide’s third touchdown as the junior signal caller hit Ruggs for a 48-yard gain on a play-action pass. Four plays later, Harris scored from 1-yard out to put Alabama ahead by 11.
Tennessee was unable to get much going on its next drive and had to punt the ball back to Tagovailoa. However, after a sack by Greg Emerson on first play of the drive, the Tide’s Heisman contender had to leave the game with an injury.
Following a few big plays by Harris on the ground and through the air, Alabama had a chance to extend its lead with a field goal on the final play of the half, but Joseph Bulovas missed the 41-yarder wide left after Jeremy Pruitt called three straight timeouts before the attempt.
The Vols recorded a three-and-out to start the second half and then cut into the Alabama lead once again with another Cimaglia field goal, this one from 32 yards, to make it 21-13. A few plays earlier, a Jennings’ rushing touchdown was taken off the board after the Vols were flagged for holding.
UT looked to have another stop on the next series but a personal foul penalty after the play extended the drive. The Crimson Tide took advantage of the mistake and marched down the field before capping a 10-play drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to extend their lead to 28-13.
Alabama iced the game with a 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Trevon Diggs midway through the fourth quarter to stifle a 14-play drive by Tennessee. On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Guarantano fumbled the ball into the end zone while trying to reach the ball over the goal line.
Neither team scored for the remainder of the game as Alabama held on to improve to 7-0 on the year and 4-0 in SEC play.
Tennessee (2-5, 1-3 SEC) will look to rebound next week at home against South Carolina. Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. on the SEC Network.