Fourth down is no sure thing, even if Alabama has converted on every attempt this year.
But Nick Saban likes the odds. Alabama faced fourth and goal on the one twice on Saturday. The Crimson Tide came away with two touchdowns.
“If you have a good defense and you go for it, even if you don’t make it, if you can keep them down there you’re going to get fairly good field position,” Saban said. “So the chances of being able to get a field goal, which is what you’re willing to settle for, are pretty good if you can stop them and keep them down there, get good field position coming out of it.
“I just felt like from a momentum standpoint it’s always a good thing to try and score a touchdown.”
That was the call when the UA offense lined up for fourth-and-goal in the second quarter with a 7-0 lead, a yard short of the end zone.
Alabama found itself in scoring position when tight end Irv Smith Jr. caught a pass and got inside the 5-yard line. The ball was stripped out and bounced out the back of the end zone for a touchback, but a penalty for illegal hands to the face on Tennessee defensive end Jonathan Kongbo gave Alabama the ball back on the 1 for first-and-goal.
“They all add up,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “Officials just said Jonathan (Kongbo) got his hand underneath the helmet. I have to see it on video. It extended a drive.”
Both teams had errors in the next sequence. Alabama took a delay of game, then couldn’t gain ground on a first-down carry. Quarterback Jalen Hurts found Calvin Ridley in the end zone, but he dropped the pass as he was hit.
“It was just kind of a sloppy play,” Hurts said.
Hurts scrambled up the middle on third down, but Tennessee was called for holding. He threw incomplete on third-and-goal from the 1, setting up Saban’s call after a timeout.
Alabama went back to the same play it had used to punch in a touchdown on its first fourth-down conversion of the game. The Crimson Tide used its jumbo package with defensive linemen Da’Ron Payne and Quinnen Williams as lead blockers.
“I trust in those two guys to get the pile moving,” running back Bo Scarbrough said.
Scarbrough had jumped and stretched the ball across the goal line for his first touchdown. He did the same thing in the second quarter, scoring his second touchdown of the day.
“I said I might as well go over the top,” Scarbrough said. “We’re either going to turn the ball over or get the touchdown.”
Those were the only two plays in which Alabama went to its jumbo package on Saturday. It came through with two touchdowns.
It took a couple of Tennessee penalties and a new set of downs for Alabama to finish the drive in the end zone. But the odds were in the offense’s favor.
“As an offense, I know that’s one of the best feelings in the world when you score on fourth down,” tight end Hale Hentges said. “You have to have it and you can put it in whenever you have to.”