ESPN college football analyst Tim Tebow said Texas A&M’s 41-38 upset win over Alabama on Oct. 9 effectively “woke a sleeping giant.”
The Crimson Tide looked wide awake last week while routing Mississippi State 49-9 in Starkville, boosting them to the No. 4 ranking in this week’s AP Top 25.
They aim for a second consecutive win Saturday night when they welcome Tennessee to Tuscaloosa.
The once-great rivalry has become totally lopsided since Nick Saban took over at Alabama before the 2007 season.
Saban is 14-0 against the Volunteers as the Crimson Tide’s coach, and aside from a 12-10 victory in 2009 that required Alabama to block a potential game-winning field goal, few of the games have been close. That includes last year’s 48-17 blowout in Knoxville.
Josh Heupel is the sixth Tennessee coach to try his hand at beating Alabama in the Saban regime. He will have to do it with a potentially short deck as quarterback Hendon Hooker (leg) is considered day-to-day after leaving last week’s 31-26 loss to Ole Miss in the final minute.
“I don’t think it’s a long-term injury,” Heupel said. “We’ll see as the week unfolds where we wind up with Hendon.”
Hooker’s injury was barely a footnote in light of all the crazy things that happened over the game’s final minute. Hooker’s 23-yard pass to Jacob Warren was less than a yard shy of a first down on fourth-and-24 with 54 seconds left, enraging a sellout crowd that earlier saw a scoop-and-score touchdown by the Tennessee defense overturned.
A minority of fans threw objects ranging from mustard bottles to golf balls — hitting Rebels coach Lane Kiffin with one — and forced a 20-minute delay. The Volunteers’ band, cheerleaders and dance team all left rather than face potential serious injuries from the bombardment of debris.
On Monday, Southeastern Conference slapped Tennessee with a $250,000 fine for the conduct of its fans. Heupel said that one of his takeaways from the game was how spirited the fans were, even after Neyland Stadium was turned into a veritable trash can.
“I know for some people the story is about what happened (with the fans in the final minute), but our administration has obviously made it clear that that’s not the stance in what we want,” he said. “You know that I feel the same way.”
While the Volunteers (4-3, 2-2 SEC) endured a gut-wrenching loss following the wild ending, the Tide (6-1, 3-1) looked more like their old selves at Mississippi State. Their defense kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone, even supplying a pick-six from Jordan Battle, and their offense displayed good balance.
Bryce Young threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, completing 20 of 28 passes, as the offense rolled up 543 total yards.
“If we continue to play like we played in the last game, play for 60 minutes, play hard, support each other … I think we can develop a really positive identity,” Saban said. “I think we took the first step of that in the last game, and hopefully we’ll be able to build on that in the future.”
Alabama is shooting for its 58th win in its past 60 home games. The Crimson Tide haven’t lost at home to Tennessee since 2003, when the Volunteers pulled out a 51-43 thriller after five overtimes.
–Field Level Media