Earlier this week Tennessee players were quoted as saying Alabama didn’t look like a national championship team.

That’s a true statement if you take Tua Tagovailoa out of the equation.

The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide played without its starting quarterback for 2½ quarters Saturday night against Tennessee but still managed to knock off Tennessee 35-13 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Tagovailoa, who leads the nation with 27 passing touchdowns, left the game midway through the second quarter with a twisted ankle and did not return.

"Tua will be probably be out next week," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "He will have an MRI in the morning and we will decide what to do. But he will probably not be able to play in the next game."

The absence of Tagovailoa was obvious. Alabama entered the game averaging 51 points and 536 yards a game. The Crimson Tide was well off its offensive production mark Saturday with 373 yards, including 233 passing.

Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC) held a 21-10 lead when Tagovailoa exited, giving way to Mac Jones. Alabama’s offense stalled on three straight possessions, totaling 70 yards.

Jones got it going in the second half, leading the Crimson Tide on a 10-play, 76-yard scoring drive. It was Slade Bolton who extended Alabama’s lead to 28-13 after completing a pass from the Wildcat formation to Miller Forristall on the Tide’s second possession of the third quarter.

Overall, Jones was 6 of 11 for 72 yards.

Alabama fans were sparking up cigars late in the fourth quarter after a knockout blow by the defense. Tennessee mounted a 60-yard drive to the Alabama 1. Vols QB Jarrett Guarantano fumbled on the keeper, and Trevon Diggs scooped it up and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown to put the Crimson Tide ahead 35-13.

The Crimson Tide defense held Tennessee to just 117 passing yards and 114 rushing yards with a fumble recovery and an interception.

Alabama unveiled its new LED lighting system to a more than enthusiastic crowed and the Crimson Tide needed just four plays and two Tennessee penalties for its first score, a 1-yard run from Najee Harris, to put the Crimson Tide up 7-0. Harris had his second straight 100-yard game, running for 105 Saturday with two touchdowns.

Tagovailoa made a big mistake on Alabama’s second drive. Jared Mayden put Alabama in good field position after an interception and the Tide offense moved the ball to the Tennessee 1 on just four plays. But Nigel Warrior picked off Tagovailoa on first-and-goal and returned the ball 59 yards. The Vols scored to tie the game 7-7 a few plays later on a Brian Maurer quarterback keeper.

Alabama needed just six plays and less than two minutes to respond with five rushes for 37 yards, capped by Brian Robinson’s 9-yard touchdown for a 14-10 lead with under two minutes to play in the first quarter.

Alabama is back at home next Saturday to face the Arkansas Razorbacks with a 6 p.m. kickoff on ESPN.

 

Reach Edwin Stanton at 205-722-0226, edwin.stanton@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @edwinstantonu2