Top 5 Alabama-Tennessee games of the Saban Era
October 21, 2020 marks the 14-year anniversary of the last time the Tennessee Volunteers beat the Alabama Crimson Tide in Football.
Since that day, Alabama fans have seen the invention of the Iphone, experienced three presidential administrations, and witnessed the Tide add five more National championships to the Mal Moore Athletic Facility trophy room.
It’s been a decade and a half of dominance for the Tide under Nick Saban, who hasn’t lost to Tennessee since being named head coach in 2007. What’s more, during the Saban era the average score for a Tennessee-Alabama game is 38-12.
Even with Alabama’s recent dominance in this bitter SEC rivalry, it’s provided some unforgettable finishes and powerful performances. Here are the top five “Third Saturday in October” games of the Saban era.
5- No. 1 Alabama 58, Tennessee 21 (2018)
A Tua Tagovailoa-led Alabama squad came into Knoxville and put up 58 points, the most ever let up in Neyland Stadium history, and the fourth highest margin of victory ever over the Vols. Tagovailoa threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers, and three different Alabama running backs totaled over 50 yards rushing.
The underlying story of the game however, was Butch Jones’ return to Knoxville. The former Tennessee coach was fired during the 2017 regular season, and was picked up by Saban to join the Tide’s staff as an off-field analyst. Tennessee fans hoped their team would show out against their former coach’s new team, however the Vols were outmatched in every way in this game.
4- Alabama 41, No. 20 Tennessee 17 (2007)
The first win against Tennessee of the Saban era was a sign of things to come, as the Tide upset the Vols in dominating fashion.
John Parker Wilson threw for a then career-best 363 yards and three touchdowns, with 185 yards and two of those touchdowns going to wide receiver DJ Hall. Defensively, Tennessee was the leading passing offense in the SEC at the time, and the Tide kept them in check. Then freshman cornerback Kareem Jackson had two interceptions and Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge was held to 242 yards and a touchdown.
It was Alabama’s biggest win against the Vols since 1986.
3- No. 4 Alabama 34, Tennessee 20 (2014)
A former Tennessee head coach returned to Knoxville in this game as well, however with a far less welcoming arrival. Lane Kiffin, the new offensive coordinator for the Crimson TIde at the time, stepped into Neyland Stadium for the first time since leaving the program unexpectedly for an NFL head coaching job with the USC Trojans. Upon his return, Kiffin was escorted in by police and met with seething hostility from Vols fans.
Kiffin ended up having the last laugh with the help of Amari Cooper, who silenced the crowd with an 80-yard touchdown on Alabama’s first play. Cooper had five catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns by the end of the first quarter, and ended the night with an Alabama single-game record and career-best 224 receiving yards. The Vols cut the lead to 10 points in the third quarter, but never got close after that.
2- No. 8 Alabama 19, Tennessee 14 (2015)
At No. 2 on this list is a game that was one of the more stressful Alabama-Tennessee games in recent memory.
The 2015 Tennessee squad was underrated to say the least, coming into the game against Alabama with close losses to Oklahoma, Florida, and Arkansas by a combined 11 points. As expected, the Vols fought the Tide hard, with Tide fans holding their breath going into halftime tied 7-7. The Tide had already lost to Ole Miss earlier in the season, and a loss to Tennessee would have been devastating for the eventual national champions.
Carried by the 143 yard, two touchdown performance of Derrick Henry, the Tide led 19-14 with 2:14 left in the fourth quarter. Tennessee began to drive but they wouldn’t make it far, as a Ryan Anderson strip sack of Vols quarterback Josh Dobbs with 1:18 left to play would seal the win for Alabama. This game could have been a lot different however, as Tennessee missed three critical field goals throughout the game that would have given them the lead.
Speaking of missed field goals...
1- No. 1 Alabama 12, Tennessee 10 (2009)
What other option is there for the No. 1 spot, really?
The “Rocky Block” game is not only one of the greatest finishes in Alabama-Tennessee history, but arguably one of the most famous finishes in the history of college football.
The Tennessee Volunteers, led by the aforementioned Lane Kiffin, stood in the way of No. 1 Alabama’s national championship hopes, however through one half of play the Crimson Tide were scratching their heads. Both defenses dominated the opposing offenses, making them rely on their field goal kickers. Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin was one of the stars of this game, completing four kicks with two being from 49 and 50 yards.
The score was 12-3 Alabama in the fourth quarter when Tennessee quarterback Jonathon Crompton hit wide receiver Gerald Jones for an 11 yard touchdown to make the score 12-10. Tennessee would recover the onside kick with 1:10 left in regulation, no doubt causing heart rates among Alabama fans to skyrocket.
Tennessee nursed the clock and made it to the Alabama 28-yard line when they took a time out to set up a game winning field goal with :04 seconds left. What came next will live in Alabama lore forever.
Alabama nose guard Terrence “Mount” Cody bulldozed through and blocked the Tennessee field goal for his second block of the fourth quarter, saving Alabama’s Title hopes and undefeated season. It was a signature win for the Nick Saban era, and undoubtedly one of the best “Third Saturday in October” finishes ever.