TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Tennessee, down a starting quarterback, top wide receiver, and its two best defensive players, and operating with a banged-up starting tailback, has put together two reasonably solid halves of football playing the two top-ranked teams in the country in two consecutive weeks. It's everything that happens after those first halves that's the problem.
The Vols recorded 38 rushing yards in the first quarter, or as many as the Tide have allowed in an average game this season. AJ McCarron threw a boneheaded interception on the first series of the game. Tauren Poole actually led Trent Richardson in ground gained at the end of the second quarter. A successful fake punt for a first down and a 52-yard field goal spoke well of special teams players responsible for some glaring missteps in earlier weeks. A team composed largely of underclassmen and replacement parts made the halftime score an alarming 6-6.
And that was about the time Alabama turned back into Alabama. The Tide put up a 31-0 second half on the strength of McCarron's arm (not even assured of a starting job at the season's outset, he scored two touchdowns in six minutes) and Richardson's legs (though held to 77 yards overall, he could be seen dragging Vol defenders in twos and threes behind him at every turn). The game as Alabama dictated it in the second half was well out of hand with just a 14-point lead and nine minutes remaining in the third quarter.
All told, Tennessee was held to 155 yards of total offense and five first downs to the Tide's 435 and 21. McCarron's 284 passing yards surpassed his previous season high by almost 50 yards. Any frissons of doubt that might have existed in halftime locker rooms regarding next week's rankings were dispelled. And reverberating around the emptying stands of Bryant-Denny, a single chant that had nothing to do with the hour of football that had just been played: "L-S-U! L-S-U! L-S-U!"