It’s been nearly 16 years since the Tennessee Volunteers beat the Alabama Crimson Tide. Fifteen straight games since the Tennessee fan base tasted victory against its rival from the south.
But Saturday is a real opportunity for No. 6 Tennessee to finally beat Nick Saban and No. 3 Alabama as the Crimson Tide roll into Knoxville, Tennessee, for a top-10 matchup.
The last Tennessee quarterback to beat Alabama — Erik Ainge — is tired of waiting.
“It’s sickening,” Ainge told Saturday Down South. “I’m 36, and I’ve got a 12-year-old and three children. It’s too long.”
Since Saban became head coach of Alabama in 2007, the Crimson Tide have gone on a roll rarely seen in sports, winning six national championships. The last six matchups between the two schools haven’t been close, Alabama winning by at least 22 points in each game.
“This series has not been competitive. At all,” Ainge said. “This is the first time since I played that I actually think that Tennessee has a legitimate opportunity to go get a win over Alabama. In none of those past games did I feel like that.”
But this year’s matchup has a different feel. Tennessee is off to its best start since 2016, and Alabama comes in wounded.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner — Bryce Young — will be a game-time decision with an injury to his throwing shoulder, and Tennessee’s offense is near the top of every offensive category in the country.
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker has emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate, throwing for 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in five games.
The Vols lead the country in yards per game (547.8), are seventh in the country in passing yards per game (340.4) and are second in the country in points (48.8 per game).
Ainge is hoping this is the year he finally gets to light a cigar, the tradition for the winner of the matchup, if Tennessee can finally snap the skid.
“When we win the football game,” Ainge said, “I’m gonna light it up inside Neyland Stadium.”