Quick Summary: No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC) came to Knoxville and walked out of Neyland Stadium with an easy 44-13 win over the Vols (3-4, 0-4 SEC). Nobody was too surprised. What was surprising was how easily Alabama moved the ball in the passing game.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron threw for a career-high 306 yards and tied his career high of four TD passes. WR Amari Cooper set an Alabama freshman record with 162 yards of receiving and added two touchdowns. Alabama outgained the Vols 539 to 282 in total yardage
The Vols were down only 23-10 late in the second quarter. Quarterback Tyler Bray launched a deep pass to a wide-open Justin Hunter, who let the ball bounce off his hands. The Vols then ran out the rest of the first half. Alabama made it 30-10 early in the second half and Tennessee was never able to get any closer.
Even with the Crimson Tide mixing in some reserves, the lead stretched to 44-10, powered by a 42-yard reception from Cooper, a 43-yard touchdown run by freshman running back T.J. Yeldon and a 39-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kenny Bell.
Tennessee kicker Michael Palardy hit a 21-yard field goal in the final moments to give Tennessee its first second-half points against Alabama in the Derek Dooley era.
It was over when: Tennessee had a chance to cut the deficit to 13 points late in the third quarter, but Bray was intercepted by Alabama safety Robert Lester in the end zone on a pass intended for wide receiver Pig Howard. That turnover prevented the Vols from capitalizing on a 44-yard reception by receiver Justin Hunter earlier on the drive.
Tennessee player of the game: His numbers weren’t huge, but running back Marlin Lane played hard in his first career start. With Rajion Neal (ankle) out, Lane had 15 carries for 60 yards to go along with five receptions for 48 yards. Gaining 108 all-purpose yards against the top-ranked Alabama defense is a notable accomplishment.
Alabama player of the game: Freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper set a new school freshman record with 162 yards of receiving. He had two touchdowns but would’ve had three had one not been nullified by an illegal formation penalty. His previous high was 84 receiving yards against Ole Miss on Oct. 29.
Unsung hero: Tennessee defensive end Darrington Sentimore, who played for Alabama from 2009-10, played perhaps his best game as a Vol. He found his way into the backfield numerous times, and finished the game with three tackles, two quarterback hurries and a sack. It wasn’t exactly revenge on his former coach, but it was a solid game for the junior.
Three stats of note:
1. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron completed 17 of 22 passes for 306 yards and four touchdowns: The 306 yards were a career high for the Alabama senior and the four touchdowns tied his career high. McCarron completed 17 of 26 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown last season against the Vols. His career numbers as a starter against Tennessee are remarkable: 34-of-48 passing for 590 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception.
2. Alabama won the turnover-margin battle (plus-1): The Vols needed it to be the other way around to have a shot in this one. Two Tyler Bray interceptions – one to linebacker C.J. Mosley and one to safety Robert Lester – hurt the Vols. Alabama’s lone turnover, a fumble by backup quarterback Blake Sims, came with the game well out of reach.
3. Nick Saban has outscored Derek Dooley 80-3 in the second half of their three meetings: So much for the student getting the better of the teacher. Saban has schooled Dooley, his former assistant, after the half in three contests. This was the first season Dooley has mustered any points in the second half against the Tide. There are a lot of reasons that might be: depth, experience, talent and halftime adjustments. But overall. it’s a sign of how far ahead Alabama is of the Vols right now.
Where does Tennessee go from here?: The Vols will travel to South Carolina next week looking for their first SEC win in the final game of their brutal mid-year stretch. Is Derek Dooley done? It’s hard to say at this point, but a blowout loss that finished with mostly Alabama fans left in the stadium at the end won’t help his case. The Vols will have one more chance to pull a surprise next week before they have four winnable games against Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky to conclude the season. It might be too late to call it a great year at this point, but getting to at least seven wins has to be the goal going forwad.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.