Alabama Coach Nick Saban can blame whomever he wishes for his Crimson Tide football team not being ready to play when the game started. If it’s because of a focus on LSU, that really is a bad excuse because if the Tide plays against the Bengal Tigers the way it did against Tennessee to open the game, Bama will be road kill.
On the other hand, there was a good reason fans began chanting for LSU late in the third quarter. The attention could officially turn to what is being billed as one of the great regular season games of all-time.
Both Alabama and LSU did what they had to do on Saturday and through the first eight games of 2011. LSU, ranked first in the nation, blasted Auburn, 45-10, while the second-ranked Tide was taking care of Tennessee.
Alabama and LSU both have a bye this week, then will meet in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, November 9, a game that is being promoted as the de facto national championship game.
Alabama is now 8-0 overall and 5-0 in Southeastern Conference games. Tennessee fell to 3-4 overall and 0-4 in league games.
After a lethargic first half in which both Bama and the Vols kicked a pair of field goals, Alabama’s third quarter included 12 first down plays that netted 178 yards and two touchdowns. The other touchdown came on a second down play. There were no third down or fourth down Bama plays in the quarter, which ended with Alabama holding a 27-6 lead going to the fourth quarter.
The third quarter domination included Alabama having nine first downs, Tennessee zero. The Tide had 14 plays for 190 yards. Tennessee’s third quarter was 13 plays for 31 yards. Quarterback A.J. McCarron passed seven times in the third quarter, completing all seven for 125 yards.
For the game, McCarron completed 17 of 26 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown. He suffered one interception and was sacked once, on the final play of the first half. His touchdown pass was 39 yards to Kenny Bell in the third quarter. McCarron also ran for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Tailback Trent Richardson had his streak of 100 yards rushing games end with 17 carries for 77 yards. He did have two rushing touchdowns.
The rest of the scoring came from placekickers Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster. Shelley made two first half field goals and four extra point kicks and Foster was good on a 45-yard fourth quarter field goal.
Marquis Maze had five receptions for 106 yards.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley was in on eight tackles. Dont’a Hightower was in on seven tackles, including a sack and a tackle for loss, and also had an interception. Courtney Upshaw and Chris Jordan caused fumbles and Vinnie Sunseri had a fumble recovery.
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Tennessee Coach Derek Dooley had a cute one-liner early in the week when he suggested it was bad policy to score first against Alabama because it irritated the Crimson Tide. Florida and Ole Miss had both scored first against Bama and then suffered beat down losses at the hands of the Tide.
But the Vols had no choice. Alabama opened the game not hitting on all cylinders, offensively or defensively, and Tennessee drove deep into Bama territory late in the first quarter. The Vols completed a 12-play drive to a 40-yard field goal by Mike Palardy and a 3-0 Tennessee lead.
Bama had at least two chances to stop the march, which included two penalties against the Vols. On a fourth-and-three, the Vols went for it, completing a pass that was short of the first down. However, the receiver got out of the grasp of Bama cornerback DeQuan Menzie and went for an 11-yard gain to the Tide 24. Two plays later a pass in the end zone went through the hands of Alabama safety Mark Barron. Although the drive covered only 45 yards, it took 12 plays and consumed 6:37.
Alabama was able to tie the score moments later, but it was a disheartening field goal. On first down folloiwng a kickoff, Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron completed that elusive downfield pass, hitting Marquis Maze down the left sideline. Maze took it for a 69-yard gain to the Tennessee 12. From there Bama tried one Trent Richardson run, then twice McCarron had to scramble before throwing the ball away. Jeremy Shelley came on to kick a 26-yard field goal and tie the score at 3-3 with 2:26 left in the first quarter.
Alabama took a 6-3 lead after another drive deep into Tennessee territory. After a poor Tennessee punt that gave Bama the ball at its 40, McCarron completed a 21-uyard pass to Darius Hanks to the Vols 39. Back-to-back passes to Eddie Lacy, a five-yarder on the last play of the first quarter and a nine-yard gain on the first play of the second quarter, moved to the Tennessee 25. McCarron then found Richardson on a safety valve and he bulled for 10 yards to a first down at Tennessee’s 12. A first down pass was just out of the reach of tight end Mike Williams in the end zone, and two plays later Shelley had to kick a 29-yard field goal. With 10:55 remaining Bama had the lead at 6-3.
Tennessee scored the first second quarter points against Alabama this season to tie the game at 6-6. Poor Alabama defense was a contributing factor. The Vols were in the shadow of their goalline after a holding call made it 1-20 at the Tennessee 10, but Poole got away on a 13-yard run. After the Volunteers were flagged for five more yards in penalties, quarterback Matt Simms connected with wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers on a 21 yard gain. Still, it seemed Alabama had stopped the drive. On fourth and four from the Tennessee 47, however, punter Palardy passed complete to wide receiver Anthony Anderson for five yards. Bama added to the bad with a facemask penalty on the play, putting the Vols at the Tide 33. Although Bama’s defense got the drive stopped there, Palardy kicked a 52-yard field goal with 5:03 to tie the score at 6-6, which would be the halftime score.
It was a completely different Alabama that returned from intermission.
First Bama stopped the Vols, three and out. And then McCarron began slinging. He found Richardson on a safety valve, and Richardson turned it into a 22 yard gain. Then he completed passes to Darius Hanks (14), Maze (20) and Brad Smelley for 17 and a first-and-goal at the Tennessee two. On first down McCarron kept at right end, diving in with the ball inside the pylon to make it 13-6.
Tennessee made an ill-advised decision to go for it on fourth and inches at the Tennessee 39. When Simms was stacked up by Josh Chapman and Hightower for no gain, McCarron made quick work of the opportunity. He connected down the middle with Kenny Bell in the end zone for a one-play, nine-second “drive.” It was 20-6.
After the Bama defense held the Vols on another three-and-out, McCarron took the Tide on a six-play, 63-yard drive that took 3:15. McCarron completed a 12-yard pass to Maze, then turned it over to the infantry. Eddie Lacy had runs of 13 and 19 yards and then Richardson took it for 16 to the Tennessee 3.
A holding call put it back at the 13, and two plays later Richardson took it 12 yards up the middle, emerging from under a pile of humanity into the end zone. It was near the end of the third quarter and the issue was pretty much decided with Alabama in control, 27-6.
Over the last minute of the third quarter and the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, the Tide drove the ball from its 27 to the Tennessee 27, but had to settle for a 45-yard Foster field goal and a 30-6 lead.
The defense set up the final score. Nico Johnston tipped a Matt Simms pass, which was picked off by Hightower at the Tennessee 38 and returned to the nine. Three runs by Richardson got the final score with 9:27 remaining. It was 37-6 and Alabama could ease off the accelerator.
A late fumble recovery by freshman safety Vinnie Sunseri in Tennessee territory resulted in the rest of the game being played on the Vols’ side of the field. Jalston Fowler came up inches short of another touchdown, and then Bama ran out the game with back-up quarterback Phillip Sims taking a knee.