KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Alabama coach Nick Saban said his defense played “too soft” late in the game when it allowed Tennessee to drive the ball 45 yards in 13 seconds and set up a walk-off field goal to win 52-49.
Tennessee fans rushed the field and tore down both goal posts Saturday after
“Very disappointed in the loss,” Saban said. “We didn’t answer the bell today. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done. Way too many penalties. Gave up explosive plays. Had a major error on special teams that was totally unnecessary and led to a score on their part.
“You have to give them a lot of credit. They did a nice job with their offense. … But we didn’t execute well enough.”
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, who missed last week’s game against Texas A&M with shoulder soreness, started and threw for 455 yards and two touchdowns. He said his arm felt “fine.”
“It was great to be out there with my teammates,” he said. “I love the game and I love them, so that was great. But at the end of the day, we lost.”
Alabama came back from down 28-10 early and held a seven-point lead with 7:49 left in the game. Tennessee then scored 10 unanswered points.
Saban said Young played “really well” but “we didn’t get it done on defense when we had the chance.”
But no completions were bigger than Hooker’s 18- and 27-yard passes that set up the game-winning kick.
“The guy is playing at an unbelievable level,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said of Hooker. “Smart. Tough. Competitive. Decisive. Accurate with the football — short, medium, deep. He controlled the game for us and used his feet when he had to. He’s the key to the ignition that makes us go.”
Heupel said, “It wasn’t pretty in the second half” but “our kids continued to reset and go play and believe.”
Saban said he wished Alabama could have certain decisions back, including its defensive tactics during the final drive.
“We played way too soft at the end to let them go down the field and get in field goal range,” he said. “So, I think that the big thing that our players need to do is learn from this experience, have more respect for playing with discipline so you don’t help the other team.”
Saban recalled his message to the team in the locker room.
“We can accomplish every goal that we had at the start of the season,” he said. “There’s no room for error in the West. We have to win out in the West … and we still have a chance to go to the SEC Championship.
“But the key to the drill is you have to learn from these experiences. You have to learn from the mistakes you make.”
Saban said it was “obvious” the team has a lot of work to do.
“This is a tough lesson to learn,” Young said. “… But we’re going to watch the tape and we’re going to figure out what we can do better.”
By beating Alabama, Tennessee snapped a 15-game losing streak in the rivalry known at The Third Saturday in October. The 101 combined points were the most ever in the rivalry and tied for the most in a top-10 matchup in SEC history.
Heupel acknowledged that he downplayed the Alabama game during the week but said he understands the enormity of the rivalry and the win.
“So excited we were able to come out with the win for everyone involved,” Heupel said. “It was a great night and I think it just speaks to the mentality, the growth and the progress of the individuals inside our locker room and collectively as a team. It speaks to our coaching staff.”
But he warned that there’s a lot of time left in the regular season. After hosting UT Martin next Saturday, Tennessee plays No. 22 Kentucky and No. 1 Georgia.
“This journey is just beginning,” Heupel said. “Good teams get better throughout the course of the season.”