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Five Critical Moments: Tennessee Downs Alabama

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee earned its first top 10 win since 2006 Saturday knocking off No. 3 Alabama, 52-49, at Neyland Stadium.

The Vols jumped out to a 21-7 lead but Alabama came charging back, leading by a touchdown multiple times in the second half.

Here are five critical moments on an exorcism for the Tennessee football program.

Alabama’s Special Teams Miscue

Tennessee’s offense had Alabama’s defense in a blender in the first quarter. In three drives, Tennessee scored three touchdowns in less than four minutes of time of possession. The Vols averaged nearly 10 yards per play while doing it.

There was clear excitement from Alabama’s defense running off the field after forcing a three-and-out on the Vols’ fourth drive of the game. However, on the ensuing punt Alabama’s Deontae Johnson tried to pick the punt off the ground, Tennessee hit him immediately and the Vols jumped on the ensuing fumble.

It was a mind-numbing mistake by Alabama and it caused a Nick Saban outburst.

Three plays later, Tennessee was back in the end zone extending its first half lead to 28-10.

That stolen drive and touchdown proved huge as the Vols needed all the points they could get in an offensive shootout.

A Defensive Stop And Hyatt Over The Top

By late in the third quarter, Tennessee’s 28-10 lead had evaporated and turned into a 35-34 Alabama lead.

Hendon Hooker made a rare mistake, sailing a pass high over the middle on third down for his first interception of the season. Alabama had all the momentum in the world and a chance to go down the field for its third straight touchdown and sixth straight scoring drive.

Instead, Tennessee’s defense got a crucial third down stop. Byron Young hit Bryce Young hard as he threw into the flat and a gang of Volunteer tacklers — led by Tomarrion McDonald and Christian Charles — made the tackle.

Nick Saban sent his punt unit out and it looked like a wise decision in the short term. The Crimson Tide pinned Tennessee at its own six-yard line.

It looked like a strong decision for all of three plays. Hooker stuck a bullet on Jalin Hyatt down the seam and the star receiver went 78 yards for his fourth of five touchdown on the afternoon.

When the game looked to be slipping away from Tennessee, its defense got a crucial stop and Hooker and Hyatt delivered.

More From RTI: PFF Grades From Tennessee-Alabama

A Catastrophic Unforced Mistake

We discussed Alabama’s mind-numbing mistake but Tennessee had one of its own late in the game. After Alabama tied the game midway through the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-goal conversion, Tennessee took over at its own five-yard line following an illegal block in the back.

The drive’s third play was a catastrophe. Hooker thought he handed the ball to Jabari Small. Small thought Hooker kept it on the read option.

In reality, the ball sat all alone in the backfield when Dallas Turner picked it up and strutted into the end zone untouched.

Tennessee all of a sudden trailed by seven with just under eight minutes to play. The Vols weren’t dead but needed to be nearly perfect on offense and defense the rest of the way to even force overtime.

Will Reichard Wide Right

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner targeted Tennessee walk on corner William Wright with the game on the line on third-and-10. Tennessee pressured Young and his pass fell short an incomplete.

Wright being in the game showed the improbability of Tennessee’s victory and his solid coverage sent Will Reichard onto the field to try a 50-yard field goal.

Reichard didn’t miss a field goal during Alabama’s 2020 National Championship and has solved Alabama’s kicking woos under Nick Saban.

However, Reichard did what he never did in 2020 missing wide right. The kick started at the right upright and just faded outside its reach as life rushed into 101,915 fans and the Tennessee sideline.

15 Seconds For The Win

Not only did Alabama not take the lead on Reichard’s 50-yard field goal try but questionable time management left Hooker and the Vols with 15 seconds on the clock.

Tennessee had both timeouts and needed to go 37 yards to get in field goal range. They had two plays to do it. Hooker and the Vols couldn’t have executed any better.

The super senior quarterback found Ramel Keyton for 18 yards and then found Bru McCoy for 27 yards— McCoy’s first catch since Tennessee’s first offensive play.

That set kicker Chase McGrath up for a manageable 40-yard field goal to win. McGrath’s kick wobbled 41 yards right down the middle as Tennessee earned its first win over Alabama since 2006.

Pandemonium reigned.

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