KNOXVILLE -- By now, the formula's becoming all too familiar for Tennessee: Hang in for 30 minutes, and then see it slip away.
"I thought as a defense, we competed for a half," linebacker Nick Reveiz said. "Second half, it seemed like we fell apart, which feels like a story that keeps coming."
It started the second week of the season, when Tennessee jumped out to an early lead against Oregon, only to give up 38 second-half points in a 48-13 loss.
To a lesser degree, it happened against Florida, when the Gators took a 7-3 halftime lead and turned it into a 31-17 win.
A narrow, last-play loss to LSU on the road proved achingly close, but an illegal participation penalty that set up the Tigers' game-winning score didn't help ease the pain. Two weeks ago against Georgia, the Vols fell behind early and couldn't catch up.
And on Saturday, it happened again, this time to No. 8 Alabama.
"We played a really outstanding football team tonight, and we fought them pretty hard for 30 minutes, scrapping and fighting," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "We came out in the third quarter and gave up a couple plays. The game got away from us. The third quarter obviously was the difference."
The Vols clawed their way to a 13-10 deficit at halftime, thanks to a 59-yard touchdown run from Tauren Poole, some good red zone defense and a nice two-minute drive that resulted in a 33-yard field goal from freshman Michael Palardy as the half ended.
But Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) came out swinging after halftime with a 70-yard touchdown drive. It stopped Tennessee's next possesion, and then Trent Richardson twisted the knife with a 65-yard touchdown run to put Alabama up 27-10 midway through the third quarter.
"Give them a lot of credit," Dooley said. "They're big, they're fast, they're physical and they beat on you. That's what really good teams do."
The VolS are now 2-5 and 0-4 in the conference heading into next week's 12:21 p.m. kickoff at South Carolina.
But even UT's successes in the first half - like 108 yards rushing against one of the stingiest defenses in the country - were too fleeting for Dooley's taste.
"We had two good runs," he said, "and it looked like we were running the ball great."
Perhaps lost a bit in the shuffle was Poole's 117 rushing yards, which broke Alabama's three-year-old streak of not allowing an opposing back to top 100 yards. There were other positives as well, namely the continued progression of a young offensive line.
But the same demons reared their head again. The Vols had difficulty covering Georgia's A.J. Green two weeks ago. This week, Julio Jones set a school record with 221 yards receiving, 107 of which came in the first half. Tennessee entered the game allowing an average of 216 yards passing per game. Alabama wracked up 326 on Saturday.
"The film says throw it, so they threw it for 326," Dooley said. "We're struggling to stop anybody. We fight a little bit. We fight, and then it just breaks."
Dooley and the Vols will try to make sure their spirit doesn't break in the coming weeks.
For tight end Luke Stocker, it's about finding the positives, whatever they may be.
"You've got to take all the good stuff you can find and use that to build confidence and try to grow as a team," he said. "Move forward with that."
And while Tennessee is unquestionably rebuilding, there's no timetable, just a desire to keep improving with every practice, every meeting and every game.
"We're going to try to win the next game," Dooley said. "We'll get our program there. I don't have some time frame. We're going to go each week get better. Improve your roster. Each week go get better. I'm not a wizard. It's a process. It's week to week to week to week.''