Tennessee Stat Book
The Tennessee defense was feeling darn good about itself around 8 p.m. Saturday night.
On third-and-3 on the Tennessee 31, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron sailed a pass over the head of wideout Amari Cooper. The Vols danced off the field as the Tide's field-goal unit trotted to the line of scrimmage.
The resulting kick drifted wide right.
Early in the second quarter against the top-ranked Tide, UT trailed by just four points. All good things.
The Vols, however, had little room for error.
And then quarterback Tyler Bray made one.
From his own 27, the junior rifled a pass into the chest of Alabama's C.J. Mosley.
Back came the defense.
Four plays and 1 minute, 44 seconds later, Alabama tailback T.J. Yeldon was plunging headlong onto the checkerboard.
Those early vibes were extinguished and the Tennessee defense soon returned to its scattershot self.
There wasn't any dancing following a 44-13 loss to the mighty Tide.
"We were taking each series like a boxing round," said UT free safety Byron Moore. "We figured if we won each round we'd have a good chance to win the game. They came out swinging and hit us in a few rounds."
The knockout blow was three straight second-half touchdowns that turned a 23-10 game into a 31-point beatdown.
If UT fans weren't familiar with Cooper before Saturday, they are now.
The freshman entered Neyland as Alabama's leading receiver. His numbers, though, a modest 21 receptions for 263 yards and three touchdowns, weren't exactly eye-popping.
Then he played the UT secondary.
Cooper reeled in a career-high 162 yards on seven catches and scored two touchdowns. He would have had a third score if not for an uncharacteristic Alabama illegal formation penalty.
"It was just technique issues that broke down on those deep plays he was catching," Moore said. "It wasn't anything he did special."
He had a special night nonetheless.
Cooper enjoyed unlimited open space on his first touchdown, as Moore trailed him by 10 yards on the 23-yard haul. Cornerback Justin Coleman fell down next to Cooper on his second score, a 42-yard catch.
"We expected them to come at us and run the ball down our throat," Coleman said. "We basically stopped them in the run so they gave us a lot of play-action and hit us over the top."
Utilizing Cooper's hands, McCarron also enjoyed a career night. The senior completed 17 of 22 passes for 306 yards and four touchdowns.
As anticipated, the Tide's offense was as steady as a metronome.
They scored on seven of their 13 possessions. They rushed for 233 yards. They converted six of 12 third downs. They ran nearly 37 minutes off the clock.
Then there were the big plays. Seven went for more than 20 yards and the Vols have now allowed 38 plays of 20 yards or more in four SEC games.
"Everything that they did was because of us —what we did wrong," Coleman said.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn