Tennessee Stat Book
Tennessee didn't break any losing streaks, but it did break a trend Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
This time, the offense and defense were almost equal partners. And that's not a compliment.
No. 1 Alabama took advantage of both in a 44-13 victory that extended Tennessee's SEC losing streak to five, including four this season.
The Vols, who are 3-4 overall, also continued their losing ways against Alabama, which won its sixth consecutive game in the series while chasing the majority of Tennessee fans home by the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
By then, UT fans had figured out that their offense was almost as lacking as their defense — a scary development in that the defense is already regarded as one of the worst in school history.
Don't get the wrong idea. The defense often looked as helpless as ever, especially when it was asked to cover an Alabama wide receiver.
But a UT offense that scored 44 on Georgia and 31 on Mississippi State compounded the team's misery against the Tide.
Quarterback Tyler Bray threw two interceptions — one that set up an Alabama score, another in the Tide end zone to kill a drive.
A running game that averaged 178.8 yards through the first six games managed only 79 against Alabama. It didn't help that leading rusher Rajion Neal was sidelined by an ankle injury. Butting heads with the nation's No. 1 defense was probably a bigger factor, though.
A couple of pass plays best magnified the disparity between the two teams.
The first was thrown from Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron to freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper, who had seven catches for 162 yards.
Cooper was easy to spot on the play by the paying customers. He was the only player standing in the end zone.
One Vol, about 10 yards away, might have been close enough to make out Cooper's No. 9. The rest of the defense might as well have been back in Starkville, Miss. — the scene of its last crime — trying to cover Chad Bumphis.
The 23-yard pass accounted for Alabama's first touchdown and reminded everyone that opposing receivers are more apt to suffer from separation anxiety than stifling coverage against the Vols. Not surprisingly, McCarron had a career game, 17 completions in 22 attempts for 306 yards and four touchdowns.
Another first-half pass of note was thrown by Bray to wide receiver Justin Hunter, who succeeded in beating the Tide deep. He didn't succeed in holding on to a pass that was almost as easy to catch as the one safety Byron Moore dropped a week earlier against Mississippi State.
But Hunter shouldn't beat himself up over the
miss. After Alabama's first drive of the fourth quarter, which upped its lead to 27 points, one play was of little significance.
By then, Alabama was starting to look more like a team capable of winning back-to-back national championships and Tennessee was looking less like a team capable of having a winning season.
The Vols are so incompetent defending the pass that every team they play at least has a thrower's chance of winning. You saw that earlier this season when lowly Akron was competitive against Tennessee for three quarters.
As if that's not alarming enough, UT's pass coverage seems to be getting worse. But it wasn't alone in its failure against Alabama.
UT's offense saw to that.