TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The first half looked like the traditional Tennessee-Alabama games of the past that made the Third Saturday in October one of the premier rivalries in college football.
But, as has been the case far too often for the Volunteers (3-4, 0-4 SEC) under Derek Dooley, the second half was a different story after the teams entered halftime tied 6-all.
The No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0) dominated the third and fourth quarters, cruising to a 37-6 victory Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium in front of an announced attendance of 101,821, the largest crowd to see UT play a game outside of Neyland Stadium.
“We’re just really a very fragile, fragile football team right now. Very fragile,” Dooley said. “We’ve got to harden up a little bit.”
In similar fashion to last week against top-ranked LSU, once the Vols got knocked down, the team’s fight was gone. On Saturday it was a five-play, 75-yard Alabama drive after UT went three-and-out to start the third quarter.
“They came out with a lot of intensity (in the second half) and we weren’t able to match it,” UT cornerback Prentiss Waggner said. “They won a lot of one-on-one battles.”
Facing a fourth-and-one from its own 39-yard line on the ensuing possession, UT’s Matt Simms was stuffed on a quarterback sneak, giving the Crimson Tide great field position.
Alabama took over at UT’s 40-yard line and quarterback A.J. McCarron hit receiver Kenny Bell in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to put the Crimson Tide up 20-6 with 8:52 remaining in the third quarter.
“At that point, it was 20-6 and we’ve got a lot of ball left and we lost our spunk and it was disappointing to see,” Dooley said. “We did what we said we weren’t going to do, which was get affected if something bad happens in the game, and we lost our fight. When you lose your fight against a good football team, what happened in the second half happens.”
What happened was Alabama’s talented and physical 3-4 defense didn’t allow UT to get a first down in the second half, while its offense ranked up 280 yards of offense over the game’s final 30 minutes to finish with 437 for the game.
Tennessee finished with just 155 yards, including only 41 in the second half, but accumulated 92 yards on the ground. In Alabama’s first three SEC games, the Crimson Tide defense had allowed just 84 rushing yards combined.
Simms finished 8-of-17 for 58 yards with an interception before being replaced by true freshman Justin Worley late in the fourth quarter.
Senior tailback Tauren Poole gained most of his hard-earned 67 rushing yards in the first half, and caught three passes, a team-high.
His counterpart, Crimson Tide Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson, was contained by UT’s defense early, but eventually wore down the Vols, finishing with 77 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. UT’s effort to contain Richardson, which often called for eight defenders in the box, allowed McCarron to pick apart the Vols secondary. He was 17-of-26 for 284 yards and one touchdown.
“We were straining,” Dooley said. “But you play these good teams, they keep hitting you, keep hitting you. When you lose your strain against them, it gets hard.”
The Vols’ only points of the game came from the leg of sophomore kicker Michael Palardy. He connected on field goals of 40 and 52 yards, the latter a career-long and the first points Alabama had given up in the second quarter all season.