TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It took one minute and 28 seconds of UT's Saturday matchup against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide for last week's upset of South Carolina to be put deep in the memory banks.
Following a block in the back penalty on Alabama's sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon that brought a first down reception by Amari Cooper back, the Vols seemed to be in prime position to get off on the right foot in a difficult road matchup.
That is until the very next play, when Cooper sprinted down the Tennessee sideline for a 54-yard touchdown by way of a swing pass from quarterback AJ McCarron.
The next thing the Vols knew, the score was 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and the game had gotten away from them. A mere 45 minutes later, as quickly as it had begun, the bout was over and the final score read 45-10, Crimson Tide.
"We probably played our worst half of football that we have played all year," head coach Butch Jones said. "Some of it was due to the quality of our opponent. Some of it was self-inflicted wounds."
McCarron ransacked the UT defense throughout the night as he had plenty of time to throw in the pocket and found his receivers – especially Cooper and Kevin Norwood – who combined for 11 catches, 187 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Vols gave up 479 yards – 275 through the air, 204 on the ground – of total offense to the Crimson Tide as safeties Brian Randolph and Byron Moore battled injuries throughout the game.
"I'm concerned about being a beat up football team," Jones said. "That's catastrophic in your back end when you lose all your safeties."
The Vols went scoreless in the first half, due in large part to the injured thumb of junior quarterback Justin Worley.
UT's junior signal caller had a "hard time throwing the ball with any velocity" according Jones and had to be replaced in the second half by true freshman Josh Dobbs, who finished the day 5-of-12 for 75 yards.
The Alpharetta, Ga. native quarterbacked both of UT's scoring drives, which accounted for 103 of the Vols 322 yards of total offense.
"He did a great job coming in and leading," senior offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James said. "I was proud of him. I was surprised he came in with that much poise ... He didn't look scared at all, he just went out there and competed."
Despite the setbacks, Jones was most disappointed with the team's inability to take another step forward as a group and continue to grow as a program.
"The next step in the evolution of our football program and football team is to learn how to win on the road," Jones said. "When you play on the road, you are responsible for creating your own momentum and opportunities.
"Obviously, we did not do that in any way, shape or form in the first half and that is very disappointing."
The Vols will get the chance to take that step forward when they travel to Columbia, Mo., to face the No. 5 Missouri Tigers next week.
"You hate to take a loss like that, especially coming off a high like we did last week," junior offensive lineman Antonio "Tiny" Richardson said. "We've just got to be very critical of ourselves while watching the film and very critical of ourselves during practice next week.
"Coach talks about a 'snap and clear' mentality, so we have to snap it clear right now and get ready for a big challenge next week."