Alabama Commanding Comeback: Tennessee strutted into the halftime break carrying a 13-point lead over Alabama, eyes gleaming with the prospect of clinching their first victory in Tuscaloosa since the distant days of 2003.
However, the 11th-ranked Alabama squad extended its dominance at home over the Vols to an impressive 10-game streak. The Tide orchestrated a second-half shutout, staging a dramatic 34-20 comeback triumph at the iconic Bryant-Denny Stadium in the latest rendition of the Third Saturday in October.
As the Tide orchestrated a formidable 27-0 scoring spree in the second half, the echoes of missed opportunities on fourth downs and within the red zone resonated profoundly. The Vols managed to find the end zone on three out of four visits to the red zone, yet in the initial half, they settled twice for modest field goals, falling short of the coveted touchdowns.
The tale took a more somber turn as Tennessee faltered in all three fourth-down attempts, culminating in a critical turnover on downs at their own 47-yard line. Alabama capitalized on this blunder, transforming it into a pivotal touchdown with a mere 3:42 left in the third quarter.
Reflecting on the pivotal decision to go for it on fourth and less than one, Coach Josh Heupel remarked, “Given up a score on the previous one and felt like we had an opportunity to pick it up. Obviously didn’t (get it). Gave them a short field. They took advantage of it.”
The first two unsuccessful attempts on fourth and short saw quarterback Joe Milton III adopting a shotgun formation, positioning himself several yards behind the line of gain. The initial endeavor, occurring at the 5:29 mark of the second quarter, witnessed Milton attempting to power through on fourth and one, only to be stonewalled at the line.
Fortune favored the Vols as their defense stepped up, with Jaylen McCollough intercepting Jalen Milroe’s pass in the end zone. Tennessee capitalized on this turnover, surging to a 20-7 lead at halftime.
The Vols’ second stumble on fourth-down conversion proved more costly. Once again opting for the shotgun on fourth and one, Dylan Sampson shouldered the responsibility but found himself swiftly tackled for no gain. Alabama seized possession in Tennessee territory, culminating in a Jase McClellan rushing touchdown, propelling them to a 24-20 lead in the dwindling moments of the third quarter.
Facing a 14-point deficit with a mere two minutes on the clock, Tennessee had to muster a fourth and 10 attempt in the red zone for a chance at a miraculous comeback. Alas, Joe Milton’s pass to Squirrel White missed its mark.
In Heupel’s initial two seasons, the Vols embraced an aggressive fourth-down strategy, boasting a commendable 57.8% conversion rate (37-for-64). However, the 2023 season witnessed a parallel aggression, yet a stark decline in success, with a mere 3-of-13 conversions and a disheartening 1-for-10 since the Virginia game.