Neal Thomas kicked four field goals and Alabama coach Dennis Franchione recorded his first victory as Crimson Tide coach as Alabama (1-1) held off Vanderbilt (0-2) 12-9 in a game in which both teams failed to score a touchdown.
The game was not decided until Vanderbilt’s Chuck Folino, who had kicked three field goals earlier in the day, missed from 37 yards out with 1:13 to play.
“It was important for the team to bounce back after last week’s tough game,” said Franchione, referring to Alabama’s 20-17 loss to UCLA. “We played a lot better - had less penalties and no turnovers. But we still have a long way to go.”
The win snapped Alabama’s overall losing streak at six, the longest at the tradition-laden school since 1956. Running back Ahmad Galloway ran for 144 yards on 24 attempts to pace the Crimson Tide attack. It was Alabama’s 17th straight win over Vanderbilt.
Thomas’ winning 27-yard field goal came with 5:01 to play and was set up by a 50-yard kickoff return by Antonio Carter.
The win eased some of the tensions in Tuscaloosa that have arisen with the announcement this week that the NCAA found 11 major violations in the Crimson Tide football program. Alabama will have 90 days to respond to the NCAA’s letter of inquiry.
“We fought hard, gave ourselves a chance to win at the end and pulled it out,” said Alabama quarterback Tyler Watts, who completed 10 of 17 passes for 128 yards.
On the other side of the field, Vanderbilt coach Woody Widenhofer called all the defensive plays after his defense surrendered 608 yards in a loss to MTSU last week. The Commodores responded by holding Alabama to 357 yards and no touchdowns. It was the first time since 1992 that Vanderbilt held an SEC team out of the end zone.
“It was completely different (having Widenhofer make the calls),” said Vanderbilt defensive end Chuck Losey. “We knew what we were doing before we got on the field. We knew what we were doing on first down, we knew what we were doing on second down, we knew what we were doing on third down. We had a plan.”
Vanderbilt’s defensive improvement did not allow it to pull off the upset, however. Folino’s third field goal of the game from 38 yards out enabled Vanderbilt to tie Alabama 9-9 with 7:50 remaining.
“We did have almost 400 yards of offense (396), but we need to find a way to get the ball in the end zone,” Widenhofer said.
Vanderbilt outgained Alabama 396-357.
Alabama took a 9-6 lead late in the third quarter when Thomas kicked his third field goal of the afternoon from 31 yards out. Alabama had a fourth-and-inches at the Vanderbilt 15-yard line and decided to kick the field goal.
The first half was a battle of field goals, with the teams exiting the field deadlocked 6-6. Both teams moved the ball well on offense, combining for 411 total yards, but neither team could reach the end zone. Folino nailed his second field goal of the game from 25 yards out with 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter to create the tie. The kick capped an 11-play, 72-yard drive that stalled at the Alabama eight-yard line.
Thomas drilled a pair of second quarter field goals for the Tide from 35 and 26 yards, giving Alabama a 6-3 lead. Thomas’ first kick capped a 62-yard drive, while his second finished off a 10-play, 69-yard drive, with all 69 yards coming on the ground. The second drive was set up when Vanderbilt wide receiver Dan Stricker fumbled on the Alabama 21-yard line.