TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama didn’t want to waste time putting Tennessee away.
The Vols were hoping to be “in the game” late with an opportunity for a second straight upset shocker.
Everything went the Crimson Tide’s way on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium and no one watching the nationally televised Southeastern Conference game would doubt Alabama’s defense is a stern test for any would-be challenger.
Top-ranked Alabama, which has won 13 straight games, destroyed the Vols, 45-10, before 101,821 fans.
It wasn’t nearly that close and that’s been a trend of late for the streaking Crimson Tide.
Alabama has outscored its last six opponents, 246-26, and allowed only nine points in its first four home games.
“We probably played our worst half of football that we have played all year,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “Some of it was due to the quality of our opponent. Some of it was self-inflicted wounds.”
Tennessee was forced to call on Josh Dobbs, one of its two highly touted freshman quarterbacks, to start the second half when starter Justin Worley injured the thumb on his throwing hand. The Vols matched Alabama’s 10 second-half points, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
“In the second half, I thought our players showed grit and fight,” Jones said, “but we just didn’t play winning football in all areas.
The Vols managed to avoid their first shutout since Florida ripped them, 31-0, on Sept. 17, 1994, when Michael Palardy kicked a 37-yard field goal with 12:53 left in the third quarter. Tennessee has now scored in 238 consecutive games.
The game was over long before the boot by Palardy, who beat nationally ranked South Carolina last week with a field goal as time expired.
“This is a 110-year-old rivalry that means a lot to a lot of people in Alabama,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “We played physical, played with a lot of toughness and we knew Tennessee was the kind of team that could play with anybody in the country.
“We challenged our guys to prove who we were, and how we can play against them.”
The Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0) needed less than 2 minutes to get on the scoreboard when quarterback A.J. McCarron hooked up with Amari Cooper on a 54-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the game.
Cooper had five catches for 75 yards after ripping Tennessee for seven receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns last season.
McCarron completed 19 of 27 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns in another superlative performance against an old rival that he said showed a lack of respect for the Tide.
“For (them) to kind of say we haven’t deserved their respect to call us Alabama, they call us the ‘Red Team,’ ” McCarron said. “And for their head coach to come out and say they can play against anybody, I don’t think we’re just anybody.
“We won two national championships in a row and we’re undefeated right now. So we’re not just anybody.”
Before the first quarter ended A.J. Yeldon scored on a 1-yard run and McCarron hit Kevin Norwood on a 22-yard scoring strike as the Tide built a 21-0 lead.
Those three scoring drives covered 51, 66 and 66 yards and took a combined 22 plays.
In the first quarter, Tennessee ran 11 plays and Alabama had 10 first downs.
Tennessee (4-4, 1-3), which plays nationally ranked Missouri and Auburn in the next two weeks, could do little to stop Alabama’s high-octane offense. When the score reached 35-0 the Crimson Tide had scored 104 unanswered points dating to a Kentucky touchdown at the 7:05 mark of the third quarter in Lexington on Oct. 12.
Yeldon had another 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to end an 81-yard drive and push the margin to 28-0 – the Crimson Tide muffed a scoring opportunity when Kenyan Drake fumbled at the Vols’ 1.
Alabama defensive back Landon Collins, starting for Vinnie Sunseri, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Arkansas, returned a Worley interception 89 yards for a score and the Crimson Tide went into the locker room with an insurmountable 35-0 advantage.
“I knew he was going out, so I read the break and broke on the ball toward the wide receiver and caught the pick,” Collins said. “(Worley) threw it right to me. After that it was to the house because I didn’t see anyone in front of me but my linemen. After we got the last block on the quarterback, that was it.”
Yeldon, who carried 15 times for 72 yards, punched in his third score from the 1 late in the third quarter and can be officially designated as Alabama’s short-yardage, goal-line specialist. The score pushed the Crimson Tide’s lead to 42-3.
The drive covered 98 yards, took nine plays and took 3 minutes, 59 seconds off the clock.
Alabama came into the game having beaten Tennessee by an average score of 34-10 in the previous six meetings.
Adam Griffith’s 20-yard field goal with 6:50 left gave Alabama a 45-3 lead and it’s the most points it has ever scored against Tennessee in Tuscaloosa.
“It hurts,” Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson said. “You hate to lose like that, especially coming off a high like we did last week.”
Worley, who completed 8 of 15 passes for 120 yards with two first-half interceptions, had his right thumb taped after the injury and gave way to Dobbs, a rookie from Alpharetta, Ga., who came on to work against the nation’s fifth-best defense.
Dobb, who didn’t make Tennessee’s last road trip to Florida, a move that further enhanced the thought he would be redshirted, completed 5 of 12 for 75 yards and directed the Vols’two scoring drives. His quarterback rating of 94.2 was slightly higher than Worley’s 93.9.
“(Worley) could have went, but it was hard for him to throw with any velocity,” Jones said. “So instead of risking further injury we went with Josh. For a true freshman playing for the first time in this kind of environment I thought he did very well.”
Freshman wide receiver Marquez North, a sensation in last week’s win over the Gamecocks, snagged four passes for 87 yards.
Norwood caught six passes for 112 yards and one touchdown.
Tennessee 0 0 3 7 – 10
Alabama 21 14 7 3 – 45
ALA – Amari Cooper 54 pass from A.J. McCarron (Cade Foster kick), 13:32
ALA – T.J. Yeldin 1 run (Foster kick), 8:44
ALA – Kevin Norwood 22 pass from McCarron (Foster kick), 0:28
ALA – Yeldon 1 run (Foster kick), 7:18
ALA – Landon Collins 89 interception return (Foster kick), 0:12
TEN – FG Michael Palardy 37, 12:53
ALA – Yeldon 1 run (Foster kick), 2:55
TEN – Rajion Neal 3 run (Palardy kick), 12:58
ALA – FG Adam Griffin 20, 6:50
ATT – 101,821
First Downs 14 26
Rushes-Yards 28-127 37-204
Passing Yards 195 275
Total Plys-Yards 56-322 65-479
Com.-Att.-Int. 13-28-2 19-28-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1
Punts.-Avg. 5-46.2 2-40.0
Penalties-Yds. 3-32 4-45
RUSHING — Tennessee: Rajion Neal 13-70, Marlin Lane 6-25, Josh Dobbs 3-19, Tom Smith 4-10, Justin Worley 1-2, Alton Howard 1-1; Alabama: Kenyan Drake 14-89, T.J. Yeldon 15-72, Derrick Henry 3-20, Christion Jones 1-20, Dee Hart 2-5, A.J. McCarron 1-1.
PASSING — Tennessee: Worley 8-15-2-120, Dobbs 5-12-0-75; Alabama: A.J. McCarron 19-27-2-275, Blake Sims 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — Tennessee: Marquez North 4-87, Cody Blanc 1-43, Johnathon Johnson 1-24, Neal 1-13, Josh Smith 1-9, Tom Smith 1-3; Alabama: Kevin Norwood 6-112, Amari Cooper 5-75, Yeldon 3-29, Deandrew White 2-29, Drake 1-15, Kenny Bell 1-9, Jones 1-6.
TACKLES (UA-A-TOTAL) – Tennessee –A.J. Johnson 10-4 14, LaDarrell McNeil 9-5 14, Dontavis Sapp 7-3 10; Alabama – Landon Collins 6-5 11, Trey DePriest 5-2 7, A. Robinson 6-0 6, Cyrus Jones 4-2 6.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)