Tennessee Stat Book
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Malik Jackson wrapped up AJ McCarron in the backfield for his first sack of the season, Tennessee retreated to the locker room with some "juice" and the Vols had wrapped up arguably their best defensive effort of the Derek Dooley era.
By the time Alabama running back Trent Richardson dodged a slew of Vols, navigated through a pileup at the line of scrimmage and scored the second-ranked Crimson Tide's third touchdown of the third quarter, it was a performance that was long forgotten and only bittersweet to remember by the end of a 37-6 loss.
For the third consecutive week, the Vols (3-4, 0-4 SEC) were good enough for a half Saturday to at least bottle up an offense that was supposed to run and pass all over them. But in the second half — for a third consecutive week — they looked like the team that's been repeatedly burned for big gains, sent away with lopsided results and left reciting broken-record responses to the same questions.
The Vols gave up 157 yards of offense in the first half — 69 of which came on one pass — and Richardson, one of the nation's top candidates for the Heisman Trophy, had just 37 yards on 10 carries. In the third quarter, alone, the Vols were gashed for 190 yards on 14 plays before a throwaway fourth quarter that only made the final numbers worse.
"It was disappointing to see," Dooley said. "We did what we said we weren't going to do and that's get affected if something bad happens in the game.
"We lost our fight. When you lose your fight against a great football team, what happened in the second half happened."
It happened in a hurry.
After a quick three-and-out from the offense, UT watched Alabama (8-0, 5-0) pick up yards in clumps on a quick-strike, 75-yard drive that featured a number of play-action rollouts from McCarron and only had a play gain less than 10 yards when the quarterback dove into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run. The Vols' clutch on a 6-6 halftime tie had vanished.
"They came out with a lot of intensity. We weren't able to match it," cornerback Prentiss Waggner said. "They were winning their one-on-one battles. We just have to do a better job of winning our one-on-one battles and getting off the field."
The Vols were right back on the field after the offense's ensuing drive was stuffed on fourth-and-inches. And they were right back to the sidelines after a back-breaking, 39-yard touchdown catch by Kenny Bell that effectively ended their hopes of one of the biggest upsets in program history.
"Even when you know they're going to take a shot, we get run by," Dooley said. "They executed."
Alabama's third and final scoring drive of the third quarter featured less passing, more power running and the same, flawless execution UT simply couldn't match.
Alabama's 21 points were the most UT has surrendered in a quarter all season. The Vols have been outscored 56-6 in the third quarter of their four SEC games.
"It's kind of a broken record each week," linebacker Austin Johnson said. "We're saying the same thing about us in the second half.
"I really don't think it's anything we're doing in the second half. It's the other team executing plays and us not."
The Vols were executing in all the right ways during a first half that left most of the 101,821 fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium in stunned silence after the Vols became the first team to keep Alabama out of the end zone through the first 30 minutes this season. The Crimson Tide had more yards of offense during the first half, but, considering the matchup, it wasn't supposed to be as difficult as the Vols were making it.
"We were straining," Dooley said. "You play these good teams, man, they keep hitting you and keep hitting you and lose your strain against them and it gets hard."
With back-to-back games against No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama now in the past, the hardest stretch of the schedule is over. It just doesn't get much easier with No. 14 South Carolina, rested from an open date, awaiting the Vols.
If the Vols struggle yet again in the second half, the Gamecocks are certainly good enough to take advantage.
"We learn from it, we move on," Dooley said. "We played two great football teams back-to-back and we've gone toe-to-toe with them for 30 minutes. That doesn't mean it's good but it means there's signs of some good things.
"We're just really a fragile, fragile football team right now. We got to harden up."