TUSCALOOSA, Alabama – Get the cigars ready. One of the most anticipated Third Saturdays in October is set.
No. 1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) and No. 8 Tennessee (5-0, 2-0 SEC) will play at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, on CBS for Southeastern Conference supremacy in a possible top five matchup, depending on where Tennessee gets ranked on Sunday.
Each team took care of the preliminaries Saturday as Alabama defeated Texas A&M, 24-20, barely in a late night game, and Tennessee throttled No. 25 LSU, 40-13, earlier Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
It will be the first undefeated pairing in the 121-year-old series since the 1989 game when the No. 10 Tide beat the No. 6 Vols, 47-30 at Legion Field in Birmingham. Tennessee will be ranked entering the game for the first time since 2016 when the No. 9 and 5-1 Vols lost to the No. 1 and 6-0 Tide, 49-10, in Knoxville.
Winners have traditionally lit up cigars, and R&R Cigars in Tuscaloosa has already supplied the Crimson Tide players with their stogies. Alabama has won the last 15 straight, and Alabama coach Nick Saban has never lost to Tennessee since he became the Tide’s coach in 2007. Tennessee’s last win was on Oct. 21, 2006, 16-13, over Alabama coach Mike Shula by Vols’ coach Phillip Fulmer.
Milroe rushed for 83 net yards on 17 carries, but he fumbled twice in Alabama territory in the second quarter to set up Texas A&M touchdowns for a 14-14 tie before Will Reichard’s 50-yard field goal put the Tide up 17-14 at the half. Milroe threw for only 111 yards on 12-of-19 passing around four sacks and an interception late in the first half.
The Tide struggled much more with the unranked Aggies (3-3, 1-2 SEC) on this night than Tennessee did at LSU.
“That was not our best football,” said Saban, whose team had four turnovers in all. “Jalen did some good things, but he only passed for 111 yards. It’s not all him. The passing game needs to get better. We’ll see what kind of progress Bryce makes. Everybody can play better. We’re going to be playing a very good team.”
The game came down to the very last play with Texas A&M on the Alabama 2-yard line on first-and-goal with three seconds to play after a pass interference penalty in the end zone against Alabama.
Texas A&M quarterback Haynes King, who started in place of the injured Max Johnson, threw incomplete to wide receiver Evan Stewart in the shallow corner of the end zone incomplete. Conrerback Terrion Arnold had Stewart blanketed in man-to-man coverage.
“I just happened to be in perfect position,” Carrion said.
“I smiled,” Milroe said. “Thank God! I looked up at God.”
It was a revenge game for Alabama, which was upset as the No. 1 team last year at unranked Texas A&M, 41-38, as Aggies’ coach Jimbo Fisher became the first pupil of Alabama coach Nick Saban to beat him.
Then the two feuded bitterly in the off-season over the use of Name, Image and Likeness in recruiting.
But none of this helped Alabama, as the Aggies again made a major upset bid. A&M took advantage of an injury to Young.
“He really wanted to play,” Saban said. “He actually wanted to play at the end of the game.”
Milroe, meanwhile, kept both teams in the game. He completed 6 of 10 passes for 61 yards with two touchdown passes and rushed 12 times for 77 yards in the first half. But his two fumbles led to A&M tying it 14-14 in the second quarter.
ALABAMA TURNED THE BALL OVER AGAIN AND AGAIN
“I had to flush it,” Milroe said. “That was the first half.”
King started for Johnson, who injured his left throwing hand last week in a loss at Mississippi State. King threw two touchdown passes in the first half. He finished 25 of 46 for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
Milroe kept flinging it in the second half and put Alabama ahead 24-14 early in the third quarter on a 29-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ja’Corey Brooks. Texas A&M cut that to 24-17 on 41-yard field goal by Randy Bond after a third fumble by Alabama – this one by tailback Jase McClellan at the Aggies’ 38-yard line.
Alabama’s Will Reichard missed a 35-yard field goal at the nine-minute mark to keep the Aggies within 24-17.
Bond booted a 45-yard field goal with 3:32 to go to get the Aggies within 24-20, and they had one more chance.
Arnold was more relieved than celebratory after the final play.
“Actually, this is the only place in the country where you win games like these, and you don’t feel like you won,” he said. “We’ve got to play better.”