The Third Saturday: Ranking Saban-era Alabama victories over the Vols


CW file

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Staff Reporter

Alabama vs. Tennessee is one of college football’s most storied rivalries. But since head coach Nick Saban was hired in 2007, the Crimson Tide has dominated, winning the last 13 games.  Which of these games stand out the most? From last-second heroics to complete domination, these are the top five Alabama vs. Tennessee games under Saban.

#5: 2011, #2 Alabama 37, Tennessee 6

Don’t let the score fool you. This edition of Alabama vs. Tennessee was tight until the second half. Neither team scored a touchdown in the first half. Tennessee was successful in putting the pressure on the Crimson Tide to play their best ball. By the second half, Alabama did just that. Quarterback AJ McCarron would complete his first four passes of that half for 73 yards and run in for a touchdown. Those six points were the first of 21 in the third quarter. Tennessee tried to create momentum by going for fourth downs, but Alabama’s defense would prove too much for the Volunteers, and they would not let Tennessee get another first down in the second half. Despite the utter domination of Alabama during the last 30 minutes of regulation, this game showed why the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is special. Each team brought the best out of each other, even if for a short time. The Crimson Tide must always be prepared for a dogfight against Tennessee. 

#4: 2014, #4 Alabama 34, Tennessee 20

Alabama had to deal with more than the Tennessee team on the field—the team had to deal with off-the-field drama with then-UA offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Kiffin coached the Volunteers back in 2009 before abruptly leaving for the University of Southern California at the end of the season. Tennessee fans were not happy to see Kiffin return to Knoxville, with some being quick to plaster Kiffin’s face on posters with obscene messages. But the Crimson Tide responded to the noise with a touchdown for 80 yards to wide receiver Amari Cooper. Alabama exploded with 27 points in the first half. After Tennessee rallied from 27-0 to cut Alabama’s lead to 10, a touchdown from running back Derrick Henry sealed the deal. This game was Alabama’s eighth-straight victory over Tennessee. Once again, Tennessee applied some pressure to the Crimson Tide and forced Alabama to respond. Despite the distracting drama surrounding Kiffin’s return, both teams competed until the last play. 

#3: 2007 Alabama 41, #21 Tennessee, 17

The start of Alabama’s recent stretch of wins came in Saban’s first season. At this point, the Volunteers had won 10 of the last 12 games against Alabama. Sure enough, Tennessee led Alabama 14-10 after the first quarter. But the Crimson Tide eventually kicked into high gear and outscored the No. 21 Volunteers 31-3, winning 41-10. Many fans of college football saw this win as a turning point for Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer and his tenure there. Some fans thought that a Fulmer-led team would not be able to keep up with teams led by the likes of Saban on the opposing sideline, and they were right. Fulmer would lose again to Saban in 2008 before getting fired that same season. Saban getting a victory like this one—the most dominant Crimson Tide win since 1986—in his first season proved that he was the man for this team. This game was the spark that ignited a decade of success. 

#2: 2015, #8 Alabama 19, Tennessee 14

2015 marked one of the tighter games in this stretch. The score going into the second half was tied at 7-7. Tennessee had a chance for the lead, but kicker Adam Medley missed a 51-yard field goal—one of five missed goals of the day for Medley. This was also the third game that season where Alabama was either tied with or trailed an SEC opponent at home. Despite the Crimson Tide’s offensive struggles, Henry rushed 143 yards on 28 carries and ran for two touchdowns. His second touchdown was the game winner, as Tennessee had gone up late in the fourth quarter, 14-13. Alabama sealed the deal on defense as pass rusher Ryan Anderson was able to strip sack Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs. For a team that had won most of its games by double digits, seeing a close game from start to finish was almost abnormal. This game was reminiscent of the dogfights this rivalry had prior. This game kept Alabama’s playoff hopes alive, while leaving Tennessee fans thinking about what could have been. 

#1: 2009, #1 Alabama 12, Tennessee 10

Speaking of closely fought games, “Rocky Block” was the closest and the lowest-scoring game Alabama has won in this stretch. The Crimson Tide entered the game as a 14-point favorite and was expected to breeze by the unranked Volunteers. However, as we’ve seen throughout this rivalry’s history, no game is a sealed deal. Like the 2015 bout, Alabama once again struggled on offense, only scoring 12 points in the game. Alabama had a lead of 12-3 for most of the game, until a late fumble by running back Mark Ingram. This fumble set up a touchdown, followed by a successful onside kick by Tennessee with little time left in regulation. Tennessee got into field goal range, only to have kicker Daniel Lincoln’s potential game-winning kick blocked by nose guard Terrence Cody on two back-to-back attempts. Alabama survived a massive upset and maintained its perfect record. This game could have changed the direction of this stretch. Alabama had two double-digit victories the two games prior. Had Tennessee won this game, it’s anyone’s guess what would have come of the matchup in the coming years. Despite having 100 more yards of total offense than Alabama, Tennessee couldn’t seal the victory. A close-fought game showed that Alabama can win games of yards and inches against this team.