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Game Balls: Tennessee-Alabama

The VR2 staff gifts these three Vols game balls following the 52-24 Tennessee loss against Alabama

In a game that saw the Vols lead the Tide 14-7 at the end of the first quarter, the first time Alabama trailed by seven or more points after the first quarter in six years, the home team ultimately came out on top 52-24.

Tennessee's defense had another solid day, but the Vols offense simply could not overcome the Tide's defense, accumulating only 10 first downs in the game, compared to Alabama's 33. 

Offense: The Hendon Hooker-Cedric Tillman Connection

While Tennessee's offense could not outdo the Tide's, there were plenty of splash plays from Josh Heupel's unit that kept it close until the fourth quarter. Starting Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker's final line saw no. 5 throw for 282 yards, three scores and rush for 26 more yards but no score. 

The receptor of many of Hooker's throws, Cedric Tillman, had a career night for the Vols against Alabama, exploding for 152 yards on seven catches and a 70-yard scoring reception. 

Although the Vols impressive passing performance only lasted three quarters and one drive (70 yd TD drive in the early, early 4Q), what Hooker and Tillman showed is a positive sign moving forward. It is also worth noting that Hooker not only threw for more yards against Alabama than he has in any other game as a Vol, and the most in two years for Hendo Cinco. 

Tillman's 152 yards mark the most in a game in his collegiate career, as the junior had never eclipsed the century mark until this game.

Defense: Kamal Hadden

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The defensive game ball goes to JuCo cornerback transfer Kamal Hadden. In Theo Jackon's second half absence, Hadden stepped up for the Vols' secondary. The redshirt sophomore recorded eight total tackles, with six being solo, along with one of those being a tackle for loss. Hadden also added a forced fumble to his impressive stat line in the loss. 

Hadden proved yet again that the Tennessee secondary is one of the deepest position groups it has, as Hadden joins the list of Brandon Turnage of reserve Vol defensive backs to execute the 'next man up' mentality at a high level and earn a game ball.

Honorable Mention: Matthew Butler (Nine tackles, one-and-a-half TFL and two QB hits)

Special Teams: De'Shawn Rucker

Like Christian Charles against Pitt, a freshman defensive back stepped up with a blocked punt for Mike Ekeler's special teams unit. 

Rucker blocked Alabama punter James Burnip's punt early on in the third quarter to shift momentum for Tennessee.

Although the Vols did not capitalize with a score after the blocked punt, points still came off Rucker's play with a Chase McGrath field goal.  

Honorable Mention: Chase McGrath (3 XP, 32 yd FG)

The Vols have a bye-week next week before heading to Kentucky for a Week 10 matchup on November 6.