As a part of SEC Championship Game week, we're taking a look at Alabama's and Florida's common opponents in alphabetical order. In closing: Tennessee.
|3rd Down Def.||6-15||5-12|
Alabama lined up against Tennessee as probably a tired team, as it was the Tide's eighth consecutive game and came the week before Bama's bye. It was a day for those who love kickers, as the teams combined for eight field goal attempts. Leigh Tiffin made all of his while Daniel Lincoln started just one of three, allowing Bama to build a safe-looking 12-3 lead. The Tide looked like it was simply going to run the clock out when the unthinkable happened: Mark Ingram fumbled, setting up the Vols 43 yards from pay dirt. Jonathan Crompton went 4 for 4 for 42 yards on the ensuring drive that pulled UT within 2. After recovering the onside kick, Tennessee played for a field goal but the try was blocked by Terrence Cody.
Florida faced off against Tennessee after winning two easy blowouts over Charleston Southern and Troy, but strangely not healthy for that early in the season. Deonte Thompson missed the game with a bad hamstring, while Jeff Demps and Aaron Hernandez were slowed by a flu-like bug that was beginning to sweep through the team. As a result, Urban Meyer put all the offensive burden on Tim Tebow, who passed or ran on 43 of Florida's 63 plays. UF was cruising up 23-6 when Tebow fumbled in the shadow of Tennessee's goal line. UT turned that into points, but an Ahmad Black interception with about two minutes to go sealed Florida's win.
I called the Alabama-Tennessee game boring at the time, and received a bit of flak for it. True, I don't appreciate defensive struggles as much as some folks do. In any event, this would have been a much different game had Lincoln made his field goals throughout. Cody actually blocked the final two of Lincoln's four attempts, and he didn't even leave the ground on the last one. That's a sure sign of a guy kicking it too low. Anyway, Tennessee wouldn't have had the chance to win it at the end without the first fumble of Ingram's career. Nick Saban said it best: "You're controlling a game, even though you may say it's winning ugly. We're still ahead 12-3 and totally controlling the game with 3 minutes, 29 seconds and the ball. That's how fragile a season can be."
Florida's game with Tennessee looked like it was going the way of the 2008 game. Tebow was about ready to put the Gators up 31-6 at the time of his fumble, a shade off of last year's 30-6 final score. Tennessee, and especially Crompton, was clearly not comfortable yet in its new offense, opting to go for a low risk, game-shortening strategy of heavy running. Florida's defense was ready for it, allowing just one drive of more than 50 yards and only three points that didn't come off of turnovers. We didn't know it at the time, but this game revealed what would become Meyer's strategy all season long: get a lead, play it conservative, and let the defense win games. It's worked out well so far.
Hard as it is to deny a moment that will forever be remembered in Daniel Moore's brush strokes, Florida had the better game against Tennessee. Bama was outgained by nearly 100 yards and needed heroics at the end to pull out the win. Florida allowed some points late that ultimately were cosmetic, making the score look better for the Vols, but the Gators outgained UT by more than 110 yards. Florida-Tennessee might have played out differently later in the season once the Lane Kiffin offense was fully operational and Crompton had regained his confidence. On the third week of the season, it was not to be for the Knoxville contingent.
Better performance: Florida.