Oct. 22, 2011
(3-4, 0-4 SEC)
(8-0, 5-0 SEC)
BY DREW EDWARDS
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For the first 30 minutes on Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tennessee traded punches with No. 2 Alabama.
For the last 30 minutes, the Crimson Tide dominated their home turf on the way to a 37-6 victory.
For the Vols, it's becoming an all-too-familiar story.
"Seems like we're saying the same things each week," linebacker Austin Johnson said. "You've got to play 60 minutes, but we've only been playing 30."
Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter, after the Vols played the Tide to a 6-6 draw in the opening half.
That clearly didn't sit well with the Tide.
Tennessee, which limited Alabama to 157 yards in the first half, surrendered 175 yards of offense in the third quarter alone.
"We have to do a better job handling adversity as a team," said Alex Bullard, who moved to center this week after playing the previous six games at guard. "I don't we stopped playing, we just lost our swagger. When a team like that gets momentum, you have to snatch it back."
Alabama had an iron grip in the second half.
A.J. McCarron capped the Tide's first possession of the third quarter with a 2-yard touchdown run.
On its next possession, Tennessee couldn't pick up a yard on fourth down from its 39-yard line. The very next play, McCarron hit Kenny Bell for a touchdown, and the rout was on.
The Tide added another touchdown in the third quarter, this on a 12-yard run by star running back Trent Richardson, to run the score to 30-6 in what seemed like a blink.
The third quarter hasn't been Tennessee's best, especially in SEC play.
Entering Saturday's game, the Vols had been outscored 38-6 by conference opponents in the third quarter. Alabama's outburst on Saturday brings that total to 59-6.
"When you lose your fight against a great football team, what happened in the second half is what is going to happen," UT coach Derek Dooley said." We couldn't make it on third and inches, couldn't make it on fourth and inches, then a sack, interception and a fumble. You're playing a great team - that's what happens. We learn from it, we move on. We've played two great football teams back-to-back and we've gone toe-to-toe with them for 30 minutes.
"That doesn't mean that'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 a little bit."
Tennessee's first half of football was about as good as it could have hoped.
The Vols' yardage total was modest -- 114 yards in all -- but they certainly didn't play like a double-digit underdog.
Alabama's first drive ended with an interception -- just Tennessee's second takeaway in conference play -- and it set the tone for the rest of the half.
The Crimson Tide went three-and-out on its next drive and the Vols took the opening to take a 3-0 lead. Matt Simms hit Mychal Rivera for a 13-yard pass on third down and Da'Rick Rogers came up with an 11-yard reception on fourth down to extend the drive.
Michael Palardy connected from 40 yards out, and Tennessee took a 3-0 lead.
Alabama answered with a field goal, set up by a 69-yard pass to Marquis Maze. The Vols' defense, though, dug in and kept Alabama out of the end zone.
UT managed that again, holding strong again when Alabama drove down to its 12-yard line.
In the second quarter, Tennessee drove 46 yards and Palardy drilled a career-long 52-yard field goal to tie the game 6-6 with 5:52 remaining in the first half.
Palardy helped his own cause, too, completing a pass to Anthony Anderson on a fake punt that extended the drive on fourth down.
The field goal was the longest since Jeff Hall hit a 53-yarder against Oklahoma State in 1995.
Tennessee's three points were the first surrendered by Alabama in the second quarter all season long. Entering Saturday's game, the Crimson Tide had outscored opponents 64-0 in the second quarter.
Defensively, linebacker A.J. Johnson provided a major bright spot for the second straight week. Against Alabama, he had 13 tackles, a total that trails only Eric Berry for a single game as a true freshman.
Heading into Saturday's 7:15 kickoff against South Carolina (6-1, 4-1), the Vols are certainly hoping to reverse the third-quarter trend. Of course, those struggles have come against two of the best teams in the conference, who also happen to be ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation.
"They're very good teams," safety Prentiss Waggner said. "They deserve to be (Nos.) 1 and 2. We just have to have a good week of practice.
"South Carolina's a good team, too."