TUSCALOOSA — Alabama beat Tennessee for the 13th straight time, but No. 13 wasn’t around to enjoy it.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide’s Heisman Trophy candidate, left the game midway through the second quarter and did not return.
It wasn’t enough to save the Vols — who fell 35-13 to the top-ranked Tide — but the severity of Tua’s injury could affect the outlook in the Southeastern Conference and the race to the College Football Playoff.
The Crimson Tide moved to 7-0, 4-0 in the SEC. The Tide enjoys a 57-37-8 advantage in this once-great series. Tennessee, which last beat Alabama in 2006, fell to 2-5, 1-3 in league play. Alabama won its 88th consecutive game over an unranked opponent.
Even with its new state-of-the-art light show setting the mood at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tua’s early exit took its toll on the atmosphere. At halftime it was Alabama 21, Tennessee 10 and nobody cared.
The edginess was palpable when Tennessee got a field goal early in the third quarter and made it a 21-13 game. But as it had done after each of the prior Volunteer scores, Alabama answered with a scoring drive.
The Tide converted twice on third down — helped by a roughing the passer penalty against backup quarterback Mac Jones. Najee Harris gained 12 yards on third-and-2 from the Alabama 47. Jones promptly hit DeVonta Smith — back from his first-half suspension for throwing a punch in the Texas A&M game — for 18 yards to the Tennessee 23. Harris ran twice for a first down at the 5. He lost a yard on the next carry.
Wildcat quarterback Slade Bolden hit Miller Forristall across the middle in the end zone for 6 yards and a key touchdown that made it 28-13 and brought the crowd back into the game.
The Tide added a goal-line stand, a turnover and a long touchdown run all on the same play to break it open in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-goal at the Alabama 1, Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano tried to jump over the line on a quarterback sneak. Linebacker Shane Lee was there to greet him. The ball squirted away and Trevon Diggs picked it up and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.
That came with 7:21 left in the game and negated a Tennessee drive that was 14 plays and took more than eight minutes off the clock.
Terrell Lewis had a pair of huge sacks that ended two more Tennessee drives in the second half.
Tagovailoa left the game one play after he was sacked by Tennessee’s Greg Emerson. The quarterback appeared to land heavily on his left knee and went to the medical tent pointing at his lower leg — a knee or ankle.
He emerged from the tent and immediately walked to the locker room, although he didn’t appear to be favoring either leg.
Jones finished that drive and led a final march that ended with a missed 41-yard field goal attempt by Joseph Bulovas as time expired in the first half.
Even before Tua exited, the Vols made him work for that 11-point lead. He completed 11 of the 12 passes he threw, but the one that he didn’t largely kept Tennessee in the game.
With Alabama up 7-0, the defense forced a turnover when Tennessee quarterback Brian Maurer threw over the middle for Jauan Jennings. Safety Xavier McKinney arrived at the same time as the football and Jared Mayden picked it off for Alabama at the Tennessee 38.
A pass to Harris gained 14 yards and a shallow crossing route to Jerry Jeudy put Alabama at the Tennessee 2.
Tua was pressured, retreated toward the left sideline and threw an ill-advised pass into traffic that Nigel Warrior picked off near the goal line and returned 59 yards to the Alabama 41.
From there, Maurer threw a nice back shoulder pass up the right sideline to Josh Palmer for 20 yards. Tennessee got closer when Maurer hit Jennings for 18 yards to the 3. Two plays later, Maurer scored on a quarterback sneak and tied the game with 4:21 left in the first quarter. Maurer left the game on Tennessee’s next drive, replaced by former starter Jarrett Guarantano, who led the Vols the rest of the way.
Alabama answered quickly with a six-play, 65-yard drive to the end zone. Najee Harris started it with a 13-yard run. Tagovailoa found Henry Ruggs for 18 yards on a crossing route to the Tennessee 24. A short gain by Harris and a defensive personal foul penalty gave the Tide a first down on the 9. On the next play, Brian Robinson swept right end and dove into the end zone for a 14-7 Alabama lead.
The Vols got a field goal early in the second quarter — a 37-yarder by Brent Cimaglia.
The Tide answered again. Tagovailoa completed a 48-yard bomb to Ruggs for a first down at the Tennessee 13. He threw another crossing pass to Jeudy for seven yards — on a play that Tennessee linebacker Daniel Bituli was ejected for targeting.
Harris scored standing up on a 1-yard run on the next play. It was 21-10 and the Tide, while not dominating, at least was in command.
That changed at 6:03 of the second quarter, when Tua left the game.