Winning by a 'Hare'

Alabama's football season is like a modern-day re-enactment of "The Tortoise and the Hare" fable.

The Tide explodes off the starting line and sprints to an imposing lead ... then gets overconfident or complacent or both.

Unlike the fable, however, the Hare (Tide) still emerges victorious. It just enables the Tortoise (opposition) to make the finish more interesting than it should be.

To upset second-ranked Bama (7-0) Saturday night in Neyland Stadium, unranked Tennessee (3-4) must keep the Tide from racing to an insurmountable early lead. That won't be easy, given the tendencies both teams are exhibiting this fall.

Bama has outscored its opponents 95-3 in the first quarter. Conversely, Tennessee has been outscored 14-44 in the first quarter.

If the Vols can make it to halftime within seven to 10 points of the Tide, however, they stand an excellent chance to post a come-from-behind victory. That's because Tennessee has outscored its opponents 88-32 in the third and fourth quarters this fall, whereas Bama has been outscored 55-78 during the same span.

The Tide led Georgia 31-0 at halftime, faded, and eventually won 41-30. Alabama led Kentucky 14-0 at halftime, faded, and eventually won 17-14. Bama led Ole Miss 24-3 at halftime, faded, and eventually won 24-20.

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer knows his team must keep the Tide from sprinting to a big early lead if it is to have any chance to beat the Bama boys entering the fourth quarter.

"They've come out and jumped on people," Fulmer noted. "They jumped on Georgia. They jumped on Ole Miss. They jumped on Clemson.

"It's just one of those things. We've done the same thing at different times, and I'd love to get back to that. We're going to have to do a great job early ... no question."

Vol offensive coordinator Dave Clawson is amazed by how productive the Tide has been coming out of the starting gate.

"They've gotten off to great starts," he said. "The Georgia game, watching them, boy, that's impressive. Alabama has done a great job of generating early turnovers and then their offense has been very opportunistic taking that good field position and scoring touchdowns.

"This is not a team that you want to get behind two or three scores to."

If you do, though, you can expect to close the gap in the second half. Still, Clawson says Bama's second-half fades are more the result of human nature than human error.

"They've had such big leads that I think it's a natural tendency," the coordinator said. "I've seen that a lot; you play great in the first half and then end up holding on just because you're playing with a lead.

"It's hard to play good defense with a big lead. I know it's a credit to how they've started games that that's even an issue. When that's your issue you've got a lot of good problems."

Fulmer can relate. His 2007 Vols raced to a 21-0 halftime lead vs. South Carolina but wound up needing an overtime to win 27-24. They also rushed to a 24-7 halftime lead vs. Kentucky before eventually needing four OTs to prevail 52-50.

Bottom line: Squandering big leads is not that difficult when you're playing to protect your advantage, instead of playing to EXPAND your advantage.

"The clock becomes your friend when you're ahead," Fulmer noted. "You're able to run the football, play a little more conservatively on defense and let the clock run out, rather than give somebody a chance when you're playing man to get behind you. It's part of the strategy."

Perhaps. But Tennessee's strategy Saturday night had better be to come out smoking. Otherwise, the Vols could be facing an insurmountable lead by halftime.

"Coming out of warmups, you'd better be ready," Vol defensive end Wes Brown said. "You see the start they (Tide) got on a really good Georgia team. That's a prime example of how they can come out and hit you in the mouth in the beginning.

"We'll have to come out and be ready to play from the get-go or we'll end up digging ourselves a hole like we have in the past."


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