By JOHN ZENOR, Associated Press
TUSCALOOSA — Alabama leaned on the old formula once quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went down with an ankle injury: big defensive plays and running the ball.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide turned to the defense and tailback Najee Harris once the high-flying passing game was grounded, pulling out a 35-13 victory over Tennessee on Saturday night.
The Tide (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) faced its first test of the season without last season’s Heisman Trophy runner-up against the five-touchdown underdogs. Both starting quarterbacks left the game before halftime, and the Volunteers (2-5, 1-3) put up a fight much of the way.
Tagovailoa exited with a left ankle injury in the second quarter and coach Nick Saban said he is likely to miss the next game against Arkansas. He called time before the play clock ran out after a sack.
“Tua came out of the game, I didn’t even know he was hurt,” Saban said. “We called timeout because the shot clock was running out. He said he felt like he twisted his ankle and Mac (Jones) had to go in. I didn’t have time to give him a pep talk or anything.”
He told teammates he’d be “back for LSU” on Nov. 9, linebacker Terrell Lewis said.
Tennessee freshman Brian Maurer had already left with a concussion for the second straight week, replaced by former starter Jarrett Guarantano.
The end result was familiar: Alabama’s 13th consecutive win over the rival Vols.
“This is the first time we really had to grind one out and we really had to make plays,” Saban said.
The biggest came when Trevon Diggs recovered Guarantano’s fumble on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and raced 100 yards for a touchdown to end the threat. Tennessee could have cut the deficit to a touchdown, down 28-13.
Diggs said he knew he was going to score.
“There was a lot of green grass,” he said. “It was probably my favorite play since I’ve been here.”
Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt had some angry words for Guarantano as the quarterback walked toward the sideline, pointing his finger toward him and briefly grabbing at his facemask.
“We’ve run two quarterback sneaks earlier in the game by pushing the pile,” Pruitt said. “We could either go back with it or run a sneak, and we elected to run a sneak and he shouldn’t have jumped over the top.
“He should have pushed it there over the middle.”
Harris was already delivering before Tagovailoa’s injury. He wound up running for 105 yards and two touchdowns, and adding 48 yards on four catches. It was the second straight 100-yard game for a playmaker often overshadowed by Tagovailoa and the passing game.
Alabama got a cushion when reserve wide receiver Slade Bolden threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Miller Forristall in the end zone with 4:55 in the third. Bolden did a celebratory dance toward the sideline, where he was swarmed by teammates.
It was a needed pick-me-up with the Vols riding momentum and having cut it to 21-13 with a field goal. The defense then made a stop with Lewis sacking Guarantano on third down.
Tagovailoa finished 11-of-12 passing for 155 yards but also threw an interception on first-and-goal from the 2 when he scrambled around and forced the ball. Jones passed for 72 yards and is expected to get his first start.
Tennessee: Came closer to the Tide than any other opponent this season. Had 13 penalties for 93 yards. Guarantano was 7 of 16 for 55 yards. Maurer was 5 of 7 for 62 yards with an interception.
Alabama: Survived a rare bad decision by Tagovailoa and his injury. A young defense delivered when it had to. Alabama also was heavily penalized, flagged eight times for 93 yards.
PRUITT ON OFFICIATING
“We’ve played six games, and we’ve been the least penalized team in the SEC,” the Vols coach said. “Probably got more penalties in the first quarter than we’ve gotten in an entire game this year.”
He added: “I know this, they hit our quarterback and he got a concussion and there wasn’t no flag.”
Tennessee middle linebacker Daniel Bituli was ejected for targeting in the second quarter for a hit on receiver Jerry Jeudy near the goal line. The Vols were without linebacker Henry To’o To’o for the first half for a targeting infraction against Mississippi State.
ICING THE KICKER
When Alabama’s Joseph Bulovas lined up for a 41-yard field goal attempt late in the first half, Tennessee called time. Then another one, and finally a third while Tide fans booed. The strategy may have worked because Bulovas’ kick went wide left.
Tennessee hosts South Carolina, which lost 38-27 to No. 9 Florida.
Alabama hosts Arkansas, coming off a 51-10 loss to No. 11 Auburn.