Alabama moved the ball at will, gaining 251 yards in the first half and 285 in the second en route to 536 yards of total offense. But the Tide's points – a mere trickle in the first half – turned into a flood in the second half.
"I thought our defense played well for a half," Vol linebacker Nick Reveiz said. "We did a good job tackling, wrapping up the running backs, filling gaps. The second half I felt as if we fell apart … which seems to be a story that keeps coming."
The game clearly turned in the opening minutes of the third quarter, when two big plays seemed to spark Alabama and take the starch out of Tennessee.
Greg McElroy hit Julio Jones for a gain of 38 yards on Bama's first play of the second half, and Mark Ingram got the score from a yard out three snaps later to cap a four-play, 70-yard drive that consumed just 1:32 and moved the score to 20-10.
The Tide's next drive was even shorter, consisting of two plays and lasting just 15 seconds. After a first-down incompletion, Trent Richardson zoomed 65 yards for a score that widened the gap to 27-10.
"We fought ‘em pretty hard for 30 minutes – scratching and fighting – then we came out in the third quarter and gave up a couple of big plays," Vol head man Derek Dooley said.
Tennessee appeared on the verge of getting back in the game, however, advancing to the Tide 11-yard line. Matt Simms threw an interception on third-and-10, however, and Alabama promptly launched a nine-play, 80-yard drive that widened the gap to 34-10 and sealed the deal. A 36-yard pass from McElroy to Marquis Maze was the big gainer. Ingram got the score on another one-yard plunge.
"We made a bad mistake there when we had a chance to cut (the deficit) to two scores," Dooley said of Simms' pick. "We clawed back in it, and made a real bad decision. Then the game got away from us."
Alabama's final TD came on an eight-play, 80-yard march capped by a five-yard pass to Richardson with 7:40 remaining. The big play on the drive was a 47-yard pass to Jones, giving him a single-game school record 221 receiving yards. Dooley said stopping Bama's star wideout is virtually impossible.
"We tried," the Vol coach said. "He ran by our guy (cornerback Art Evans) a couple of times. One time the free safety should've been over there but he jumped something else…. If you sit there and say ‘We're going to take Julio out of the game,' then you guys (media) are going to say, ‘Why did you guys not do something for Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram?'
That's the challenge."
Obviously, trying to contain Ingram AND Richardson AND Jones was more than the Vols could manage.
"You've got to put your energy somewhere, and it's hard," Dooley said. "That's what makes them so good. They've got two of the best running backs in the country, they've got one of the best receivers in the country and they've got a big, physical O-line. So who do you want to stop? Who are you going to put your energy on? If you double up Julio the whole game, here comes 22 (Ingram) and 3 (Richardson)."
Richardson, the No. 2 tailback, finished with 119 yards on 12 carries. Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, added 88 yards on 14 rushes.
With Tennessee trying to slow down Ingram and Richardson, McElroy completed 21 of 32 passes for 264 yards. Backup A.J. McCarron hit on 3 of 3 for another 62 yards, giving Alabama a combined passing line that showed 24 completions in 35 attempts for 326 yards.
Dooley wasn't surprised. Tennessee's pass defense has been torched a lot this fall.
"Everybody's throwing it on us," the head man said. "They watched the film. The film says throw it, so they threw it, and they threw for 326. We're struggling to stop anybody. We fight a little bit, and then it just breaks."
Simms completed 12 of 22 passes for 117 yards but threw the critical third-quarter interception in the end zone. Freshman Tyler Bray, seeing his most extensive action of the season, completed 5 of 14 passes for 39 yards but also was intercepted in the end zone.
Asked if there may be an open competition at quarterback coming, Dooley replied: "We'll watch the film and probably revisit that next week."
Tennessee started the game on a very positive note, giving the home crowd a glimmer of hope.
After a three-and-out on their first possession, the Vols went 87 yards in four plays for a 7-0 lead. Catching Bama in a blitz, Poole zoomed through a hole in the middle of the line, veered to his left and outran the pursuit for a 59-yard touchdown.
Alabama drove to the Vol 19-yard line before stalling, then Jeremy Shelley booted a 36-yard field goal that narrowed the gap to 7-3. The Tide went up 10-7 on its next possession, going 59 yards in nine plays to score on the second play of the second period. The big gains were a 13-yard run by Richardson and a 13-yard pass from McElroy to Earl Alexander. The TD came on a one-yard sneak by McElroy.
Shelley had a 25-yard field-goal try hit the left upright at the end of the Tide's next possession but he atoned by nailing a 42-yarder with 52 seconds left in the half, bumping the lead to 13-7.
Tennessee showed some spunk at this point, however. A 23-yard pass from Simms to freshman Da'Rick Rogers, plus runs of 8, 13 and 15 yards by Poole enabled freshman Michael Palardy to kick a 33-yard field goal on the final play of the half, narrowing the lead to 13-10.
The second half was all Tide, however.
"Give them a lot of credit," Dooley said. "They're big, they're fast, they're physical and they just beat on you."