Kelly said he didn’t find out he was starting until Saturday morning.
“It came as kind of a last-minute decision,” Kelly said. “Chad (Lindsay) has obviously done a great job. At first, it’s a little bit different going back out there after being gone for three weeks. After the first couple of drives, got some positive plays and we went out there and scored every time, it felt normal again.”
Kelly said his knee is “good.” He said he “took a little bit of a blow” to the knee on one play, but other than that, it felt good. He also said the training staff did a good job of getting him back healthy.
Kelly said the biggest difference is the camaraderie the unit has gained since the beginning of the season.
“At the beginning of the season, I told you guys that as games go along, the camaraderie is only going to get better,” Kelly said. “I could tell the difference in the chemistry that we have between each other.”
Collins’s touchdown return
Landon Collins channeled his inner Vinnie Sunseri with a touchdown return late in the second half. It was Collins’ first career interception and he ran it back 89 yards.
“I’m at a lost for words,” Collins said. “I eyed it down. The wide receiver came straight to me and didn’t do anything else but break out and I read the route because we practice that constantly. When I got my chance and opportunity to go for it, the quarterback threw it right into my hands. I had to go for the score after that.”
The play didn’t come as a surprise to Tide cornerback Deion Belue.
“I’ve seen him do that 100 times in practice,” Belue said. “It didn’t surprise me. He broke on it, and he did the same thing he always does.”
The touchdown was made possible by defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan finishing the play and blocking Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley. Pagan ran at least 30 yards down field and laid out to clear the way for Collins. Pagan said he took a “good lick” from Worley.
“Really I just wanted to sacrifice myself, trying to help my teammate make a play,” Pagan said. “I saw that he made the interception and saw I was out front so I tried to lead as best I could to help him make a play.”
Added Collins, “I was kind of tired and I saw Pagan running down. I knew he was going to get the block for me so I just cruised on it after that.”
With nose tackle Brandon Ivory out for what Alabama coach Nick Saban called “physical issues,” other players had to step up. Guys like Darren Lake played more than normal, while Ed Stinson, A’Shawn Robinson and Jeoffrey Pagan rushed from the middle more.
“I think the guys did a good job,” Saban said. “Our biggest problem on defensive is that we gave up big plays. … I thought Lake played really well. A’Shawn Robinson keeps getting better and better and better. We moved Ed inside some. Jonathan Allen played some. So all of those guys did a nice job for us.”
Saban said running back Jalston Fowler “got a concussion” in the first half and didn’t come back in the game.
Beyond those, Saban said he “doesn’t believe the team has any other physical issues.”
Cornerback Bradley Sylve (high ankle sprain) sat out, but was in uniform and on the sideline. True freshman running back Altee Tenpenny (turf toe) played, but didn’t have a rushing attempt.
Place-kicker Cade Foster was “kicked in the shin,” and true freshman Adam Griffith entered the game for kickoffs. Saban said it was precautionary to “make sure Cade didn’t have any further issues.”
Saban’s 62nd birthday is Thursday. The Tide has a bye week, and Saban was asked about his plans to celebrate.
“Whatever Miss Terry (Saban) has planned is what I’ll be doing on my birthday,” Saban said.
Saban received a cake during his weekly radio show Thursday because he won’t be there this week.
Alabama has a bye week before welcoming LSU to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 9. With LSU having two losses, the Tigers would love nothing more than to spoil Alabama’s national championship hopes. Expect another competitive contest from two of the SEC’s elite teams.
“We really won’t take this whole week, nor did we take the whole week when we had a bye week for Texas A&M, to practice,” Saban said. “I think when you practice too long against one team. We have two really good other SEC opponents (Mississippi State and Auburn), and we’ll spend some time helping our players trying to understand what they do. We’ll probably spend one extra day on LSU this week.”