TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The youngest Big Orange fans among us have surely scratched one item from their Christmas wish list following Tennessee’s 37-6 loss at Alabama on Saturday night.
There will likely not be a single request from the Volunteer State for a DVD highlighting UT coach Derek Dooley’s greatest halftime speeches.
For the fourth time in four Southeastern Conference contests, the Volunteers fell apart after intermission Saturday night. They were outscored 21-0 in the third quarter and stunningly held without a first down in the final 30 minutes against the No. 2 Crimson Tide after surprisingly tying Bama 6-all at halftime.
Not surprisingly, Tide boss Nick Saban said afterward, “We’ve been concerned about our players focusing on what happens right now rather than what’s going to happen in the future. We got outplayed the first half, but I’m very, very happy we were able to come out and win the game for a lot of people that this game means a lot to.”
Translation: “No matter what we’ve said as coaches, our kids are as eager to play LSU in our house on Nov. 5 as the rest of the college football universe is for us to play them.”
Still, everybody in the SEC has won their second halves against the Vols. In its four SEC games — all losses — UT has now been outscored 83-22 after intermission, each game’s differential greater than the one before it.
Yet in this case, it might actually be fairer to praise Dooley for his game plan in the opening half rather than his failed adjustments after the break.
After all, Bama entered this contest as a 30-point favorite. Most believed the smallest collection of Volniacs to visit Bamaland in decades would be headed back north by midway through the second quarter.
Instead, a disciplined UT defense largely shut down the Tide’s running attack, the Vols offense held together well enough to manufacture two field goals and when the halftime horn sounded, the 101,821 football fans crammed inside Bryant-Denny Stadium were all wondering if they were about to witness a repeat of the Tide’s nervous 12-10 win over UT on this same field two years ago.
Instead, the Tide piled up 21 points, 190 yards of offense and nine first downs in the third period while holding the Vols to zero first downs and 31 total yards.
By game’s end, UT had accumulated just 41 of its 155 yards of offense after intermission. Conversely, the Tide piled up 280 yards, 31 points and 13 first downs in the final half.
Said Saban: “We made some good halftime adjustments.”
Said Dooley: “They executed a lot better and we didn’t.”
Dooley is certainly correct that Bama seemed much crisper in the final half. Saban was also correct to point to a different emotional level for the Tide, who were playing their eighth straight game before this week’s off week.
“The biggest difference is the players responded with a whole different sort of energy level, passion and enthusiasm in the second half, which made all the difference,” the Tide boss said. “As we’ve talked about before, when we don’t have that, we become very average, and when we have it, we can be pretty good.”
How good the Vols can become in these final five games remains to be seen. Especially if too many more SEC second halves follow the script played out in the Vols’ first four league games.
Said a frustrated Dooley when asked if he thought the Big Orange was better than the Tide in the opening half: “It doesn’t really matter who is better [then]. It only matters who is going to play better for three and a half hours.”
And after four SEC games, that team is yet to be Tennessee.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...