KNOXVILLE — There was plenty of crimson and white in the Neyland Stadium stands.
There was even more of it on the field, and Tennessee could do nothing about it.
The Alabama machine kept rolling through its competition Saturday night, as the top-ranked Crimson Tide were well-represented in the crowd and devastating on the field in a 44-13 whipping of the Volunteers.
“It was disappointing we couldn’t go four quarters with these guys, and we thought we could,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “Quite frankly, I thought we played well enough for a while on defense to hang in there, but you’ve got to get points. We just joined the ranks of the rest of the country.
“We got whipped by a great football team in just about every phase.”
The talented Tide dominated their annual October rivalry game with the Vols for the third consecutive time by 31 points and pushed their average margin of victory in their six-game run to 23 points.
“This is still a big rivalry for us,” said Nick Saban, who’s never lost to Tennessee as coach at Alabama. “This is a big game for all of us, all of our players and all of our fans. Everybody at the university is happy.
“I think that Derek is doing a fantastic job. They have been better and better every year that we’ve played them. We were fortunate today that our defense played well enough to keep their high-powered offense to just 13 points.”
Quarterback AJ McCarron surpassed his career high of 284 yards last season against Tennessee with a 306-yard, four-touchdown performance on 17-of-22 passing. Freshman receiver Amari Cooper erupted with 162 yards and two scores on seven catches, and the tailback tandem of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, another freshman, rolled to 208 combined yards.
Tennessee’s offense found little success against the Tide’s defense, which entered the game leading the nation in every major statistical category. Alabama suffocated the Vols’ attack and held them to 200 yards and 35 points below their season average.
“I’m really disappointed we didn’t execute better on offense,” Dooley said. “That’s probably the thing I was a little surprised at. That’s not to take anything away from Alabama.
“Nobody’s really done much on them, but we thought we’d measure up pretty good.”
Down 23-10 late in the first half after Alabama’s 16-point, 168-yard second quarter, Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball from quarterback Tyler Bray. After a penalty erased an Alabama touchdown and the Tide missed a field goal to open the second half, the Vols punted after three plays. They took possession on their next series at Alabama’s 42.
Facing third-and-1, Tennessee took a shot, and Alabama stuffed linebacker A.J. Johnson’s run out of the wildcat formation on the ensuing fourth-down play.
Alabama safety Robert Lester intercepted Bray in the end zone a series later. Bray finished just 13-of-27 passing for 184 yards with two pickoffs and did not speak to the media after the game. Dooley said he was “not sure why” his quarterback struggled so mightily.
“We just weren’t executing what we’re supposed to, which is really disappointing because we’re a really explosive offense,” tight end Mychal Rivera said. “We were trying to ... pound the run game so that could open up the pass game a little bit. Just way too many missed opportunities.
“I feel like if we executed, we could have hung in there.”
The Tide’s offense ran off the next 21 points to send the fans in orange to the exits. Cooper caught a 42-yard scoring pass, receiver Kenny Bell was wide open on his 39-yard score and Yeldon’s 43-yard burst capped Alabama’s 539-yard night offensively. Alabama averaged 8 yards per play.
McCarron was successful throwing deep and hit on some long completions when his receivers made plays in one-on-one coverage.
“They say they’re not a big-play offense,” Dooley said, “but they do it in every game because their backs break tackles and run for big plays, and then you pack it in there and they hit the play-action and take shots.
“We just did a poor job. They throw four balls over our head. We get disoriented back there and can’t make a play. We lost every contested ball down the field.”
Cooper scored Alabama’s first touchdown on a busted coverage and set up another score with a 54-yard grab over Tennessee cornerback Justin Coleman, and Alabama took advantage of two short fields after a Cyrus Jones punt return and linebacker C.J. Mosley’s interception of Bray.
“He’s got to play well for us to score points,” Dooley said of Bray. “That’s just what it is.”
Asked by a reporter if he felt he had the support of Tennessee’s administration after an 0-4 start to SEC play, Dooley succinctly responded, “Yes.” The coach is 14-18 with just four league wins in two-plus seasons in Knoxville. The growing chatter around his job won’t go away if Tennessee continues to lose games.
“I feel like in this moment, that’s not something we’re really thinking about right now,” center James Stone said. “We’re just trying to play for this team and play for everybody in this organization and try to turn this season around. I feel like this group of guys, we’re a little bit more mature and that we really will try to refocus and get this thing and do what we’re capable of.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...