Alabama and Tennessee have met 100 times in one of college football’s most heated rivalries. Could No. 101 be another classic?
There are few rivalries as elite as the annual “Third Saturday in October” matchup between Alabama and Tennessee. Alabama can be down or Tennessee can be down—no matter. They typically play each other with a hateful heart all the same.
This rivalry is a defining element of these two historic programs and the Southeast in general. It’s fun. It’s rowdy. And it’s ours.
Ever since one Nicholas Saban moved to Tuscaloosa in 2007, Alabama has beaten Tennessee. The 11-game streak is tied for the longest in the series, and it’s only been accomplished one other time. But more about that in a moment.
Now, Alabama leads the series 55-38-7 following its 45-7 beatdown of the Big Orange in 2017.
In the meantime, Tennessee has reached a tragic low point in the program’s history—spanning five different head coaches. The most recent hire was Jeremy Pruitt, a Saban disciple, who is doing everything he can to restore glory to the fallen Vols. Just last week, Pruitt took the first step by beating the Auburn Tigers on the road to break an 11-game Southeastern Conference losing streak. The next challenge is a colossal one.
Can Tennessee channel its deep hatred for its long-time rival to upset Alabama? Some answers might lie in the past.
Imagine this. You’re watching your team playing in an unruly game tied at 6-6. Suddenly, a referee makes a controversial offside call in the second half. Do you:
A. Respect the referee’s decision.
B. Throw your hands up in anger.
C. Scream obscenities in the referee’s general direction.
D. Rush the field and refuse to return to the stands until the game is ultimately called.
The answer the Birmingham crowd chose on Nov. 28, 1901, was D. And thus, a rivalry was born.
The game was first played on the third Saturday in October in 1928 and soon became a staple of college football.
Out of all 100 games in the series, the one that seems most similar to this week’s occurred on Oct. 16, 1982. Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant entered the game with an 11-game win streak against the Vols. Sound familiar? The No. 2 Tide came to Neyland Stadium with national championship hopes on the line once again. OK, this is definitely sounding familiar…And Tennessee was nothing special that year, entering the game with a lackluster record. Uh, someone might want to show Saban this.
Tennessee got on the board quickly with a field goal, but Alabama answered with two touchdowns to take a 14-3 lead. But Tennessee wasn’t done. Alan Cockrell completed a scoring pass to Willie Gault and made the score 14-10. A field goal by the Vols followed to make it 14-13, and Alabama was beginning to look a bit unnerved. But a touchdown before the half gave the Tide a 21-13 lead.
In the second half, the unthinkable began to happen. Tennessee added a field goal, a touchdown, and completed a two-point conversion. Then the Vols added another field goal and another touchdown. Suddenly, the Big Orange was up 35-21.
But Alabama would not go down easily. The Tide drove down the field and scored with a little over 5 minutes remaining in the game. Bryant’s team trailed only 35-28 in the final minutes and had the ball. Alabama fought its way to Tennessee’s 17-yard line, but it was simply not meant to be. The Vols defense kept the Tide out of the end zone and secured the victory.
This dramatic ending paved the way for more orange crush.
Who can forget the epic conclusion to the 2003 matchup that ended in Phillip Fulmer’s favor after five overtimes? Quarterback Casey Clausen capped an 81-yard drive and tied the game for the No. 22 Vols at 20-20 with a touchdown pass to Troy Fleming with only 25 seconds remaining in regulation. Both teams found the scoreboard in dramatic fashion in the first four OTs, but the victory was sealed in the fifth. Clausen scored on a 1-yard run and found James Banks through the air for a two-point conversion. Alabama failed to convert on a fourth down on the following drive, and Tennessee walked away with a 51-43 victory.
Another monumental game came in 2009, when Alabama struggled and barely survived a close call. The No. 1 Tide’s national championship hopes were on the line at Bryant-Denny Stadium when the unranked Vols came to town. Eventual Heisman winner Mark Ingram couldn’t find the end zone during the game, but a handful of field goals gave the Tide a 12-3 lead in the fourth. Then Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton connected with Gerald Jones for the game’s only touchdown. Down 12-10, Tennessee successfully executed an onside kick and lined up for a 44-yard field goal with only 4 seconds left in the game. The kick went up and straight back down as Terrence Cody blocked his second field goal in the game and sealed the Alabama win. The Tide would then march on to beat Texas 37-21 in the BCS National Championship.
Does anyone really think Tennessee can hang with Alabama in this Saturday’s 101st matchup in the historic rivalry? Probably not many. But few believed the Vols could do it in 1982, either.
With Alabama’s Heisman-favorite quarterback Tua Tagovailoa a little banged up from his game against Missouri, and Tennessee coming off a huge win in Auburn, it may be in the Tide’s best interest to study up on its own history, just to be safe. H&A
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Photos courtesy Tennessee Athletics
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