Game recap: Tennessee 10, Alabama 12
Tennessee Stat Book
AP Top 25 College Football
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Lane Kiffin refused to question his players Saturday after a heartbreaking, last-second loss to Alabama. Instead, he'll question himself.
"I was proud of our effort," the first-year Tennessee coach said after the 12-10 loss in Bryant-Denny Stadium. "I was proud of the way we played."
So proud, in fact, that Kiffin couldn't risk taking a potential game-winning field goal away from his players.
After his much-maligned special teams recovered an onside kick and his oft-criticized offense had driven to the Alabama 28, Kiffin decided against trying to continue the drive.
With 48 seconds left, Kiffin called a draw play on second down, then milked the clock to 4 seconds to allow kicker Daniel Lincoln a chance to win the game.
"I'll go back over that a million times," Kiffin said. "I'm already killing myself for it. You'd like to think you can kick a field goal to win the game."
Yet the Vols couldn't. The 44-yard field goal was blocked and the clock expired. Kiffin's reasoning for not attempting to continue the drive for an easier field-goal attempt was fear of losing what the Vols had fought so hard for.
Kiffin said the Vols had surpassed the predetermined necessary distance to attempt a field goal by five yards. Kiffin said he based that distance on kicker Daniel Lincoln's success rate in previous weeks and pre-game warm-ups.
"You risk turning the ball over right there or you risk a penalty," Kiffin said of calling another play. "All of the sudden you get a penalty and you knock yourself out (of field-goal range). I didn't want to do that to our guys. I didn't want to take it out of their hands."
That was just one potential scoring drive that was undone by a mistake. The Vols had 13- and 12-play drives in the second half that resulted in a punt and a missed field goal, respectively.
Pass protection and penalties were issues at critical times. The Vols were called for eight penalties for 68 yards.
"Very shocked in the penalties today," Kiffin said.
The late-drive mistakes overshadowed an offense that seemed to find a groove at times against the nation's top-ranked defense.
The Vols gained 341 yards. Alabama only allowed 226.6 yards per game this season coming into Saturday's game.
Kiffin said he was pleased with quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who was 21-of-36 for 265 yards.
"For the No. 1 defense in the nation, I think we moved the ball well on them," Crompton said. "But obviously it's not enough if we don't come out with the 'W'."
Crompton's one glaring mistake was costly. The senior threw an interception deep in Alabama territory that resulted in a 49-yard Crimson Tide drive for a field goal.
"Other than that I thought he played well," Kiffin said. "He managed the game well. He's getting better . . . I thought Jonathan played extremely well."
UT's entire offense showed improvement throughout the game, yet only managed one touchdown and four field-goal attempts - two of which were blocked and another missed - despite eight trips into 'Bama territory.
"I thought guys were playing really hard," Kiffin said. "The two backs (Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown) were running extremely hard. We had some momentum going.
"Guys were making plays and we didn't score when we got down there. When you're playing the No. 1 team in the country, you've got to get a touchdown and you sure can't get your field goals blocked."
Kiffin praised his players effort in Saturday's loss, but cited a need to close the talent gap on 'Bama, which has been rated the top recruiting school in the nation the last two years.
"We've got to hit the road recruiting," Kiffin said flatly.