Entering their October 15th matchup at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Alabama Crimson Tide experienced unprecedented success against the Tennessee Volunteers in a rivalry known as the “Third Saturday in October”.
The Tide haven’t lost a game to the hated Volunteers since 2006 – 15 straight, thanks in large part to their Hall of Fame coach Nick Saban.
The Volunteers’ early success this season has vaulted them to No. 6 in the AP Top 25, but that doesn’t change anything for the oddsmakers, who favored No. 3 Alabama, a perennial contender, by nine points.
A major contributor to the oddsmakers’ decision-making process was Alabama star QB and projected top-3 pick in this year’s NFL draft, Bryce Young. He missed the previous game with a shoulder injury, a 24-20 win against unranked Texas A&M in which the offense looked sluggish and struggled to gain yards compared to previous games.
However, Volunteers QB Hendon Hooker has also been coming off an incredible season that puts him in the top five for odds for the Heisman Trophy, awarded to college football’s most outstanding player.
So the stage was set for an electric affair between two elite quarterbacks and high-powered offense.
The match did not disappoint. With 14 touchdowns, school records broken, and a walk-off over the knee kick, every conceivable expectation for this game was exceeded.
Tennessee got off to a hot start, scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter and jumping out to a 21-7 lead.
The score was 28-10 with 11:41 left in the second quarter before Alabama woke up and realized this wasn’t the Tennessee of yesteryear.
In true Alabama fashion, they rumbled to tie the game at 28 points with 11-11 left in the third quarter. From there it was a back-and-forth battle that looked like it could only be decided by who had the ball last.
For every methodical ‘Bama drive that ended in a short touchdown, the Volunteers had an answer, most often in the form of a 50+ yard bomb from Hooker to receiver Jalin Hyatt, who finished the game with six receptions for 207 yards and five touchdowns and fell apart. school record.
After Alabama returned a fumble for a touchdown to give them a 49-42 lead, the 15-game losing streak weighed heavily on the minds of Tennessee fans. Yet, as the 2022-23 Volunteers have proven time and time again, they are cut from a different cloth.
After a long drive tied at the 49 and a huge field goal error by Alabama kicker Will Reichard, Tennessee got the ball back at the opponent’s 32-yard line with 14 seconds left. Two rushes by Hooker gained 50 yards and got them into field goal range, where Tennessee kicker Chase McGrath hit a 40-yarder for a 52-49 win.
In Alabama coach Nick Saban’s postgame press conference, he expressed his disappointment with his team’s late-game play, saying, “I wish we could have done some things a little bit differently at the end … played a little better … played too soft. end to let them go down the field 50 yards to get into the field goal area.’
Saban’s disappointment mattered little to the victory-starved Tennessee fans, who understandably went berserk, stormed the field and tore down the guardrail, dragged it to the Tennessee River and threw it in, in a palpable release of 15 years of pain and anger.
When asked what the win meant, Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker summed up the feelings perfectly, saying, “It was a really surreal moment — very special not just for the team, but for the program and the fan base…some tears were shed…it was it’s a big moment for us and we’ve definitely entered the history books.