2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 8 - Tennessee at Alabama
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Oct. 22 at Alabama 37 … Tennessee 6
CFN Analysis: It'll be easy to overreact to the struggles in the first half compared to the way LSU breezed through its win over Auburn this week and Tennessee a few weeks ago, but once it became time to take care of business, the Tide turned it on. Okay, so Trent Richardson wasn't great, even with two scores, and AJ McCarron struggled a bit early on, but the Tide defense wasn't going to let this become a game. There wasn't any Tennessee passing game to worry about, and while the run defense gave up 92 yards, it was still an easy win after the offense turned it on. However, there has to be some concern that the offensive front struggled. If Bama wasn't dominant against the Vol defensive front, good luck getting a push against LSU's line.
The Vols did what they could to stay alive, with the defense coming up with a strong performance in the first half, but the offense doesn't have any pop without Tyler Bray; Matt Simms just couldn't make anything work. Tauren Poole ran relatively well as the only part of the attack that had any success, but once Bama turned it on in the second half, there weren't any answers. It's not fair, though, to judge the team based on games against LSU and Alabama. At 0-4 in SEC play, a win over South Carolina is a must with a trip to Arkansas down the road. At some point the pass rush has to show up or a 6-6 record will be the ceiling.
(AP) TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama fans could finally move on from the big rival to the really big game.
Most of the 101,821 stuck around until the end of Saturday night's 37-6 rout of Tennessee, happily starting up the "LSU" chants with a couple of minutes left and roaring when the announcer mentioned the next game in two weeks.
Maybe the No. 2 Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) had LSU on their minds a little earlier than that.
AJ McCarron passed for 284 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and led the Tide to a 31-0 second-half surge in a game that was tied at halftime.
"It was a little lackluster in the first half, which was a little concerning," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "There was a concern going into the game, and something we tried to fight all week in terms of guys being focused on what's happening right now and not being concerned about the future.
"And challenging them to play and have respect for the team that they're playing."
The Volunteers (3-4, 0-4) earned that respect by playing the title contender even in the first half.
Then the Tide scored on its first five possessions after halftime to set up a two-week bonanza of hype ahead of Alabama's showdown with No. 1 LSU, which routed Auburn 45-19 in a game that ended shortly before this one kicked off.
"We weren't aware of the score," insisted Tide guard Alfred McCullough. "It had no affect at all."
Now, both SEC powers head into an open date.
As for head-to-head comparisons, the game didn't settle much. LSU beat the Vols last week 38-7 for the same margin.
Saban went on to request everyone to "chill out" with the LSU buildup. That's probably wishful thinking.
Alabama had either first downs or touchdowns on its first 10 plays of the second half to bust open a 6-6 game and let the pre-LSU hype start anew.
The Tide outgained the Vols 280-41 in the second half and the nation's No. 1 defense didn't allow a first down.
"We had a ton of ball left and we lost our spunk," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "That was disappointing to see. We did what we said we weren't going to do and that's get affected if something bad happens in the game, and we lost our fight.
"When you lose your fight against a great football team, what happened in the second half is what is going to happen."
Trent Richardson scored two touchdowns in the second half but finished with 77 yards, leaving him tied with Shaun Alexander for the school mark of six straight 100-yard rushing games.
This one was more about the Tide righting itself from early struggles and overpowering an opponent than boosting Richardson's Heisman credentials.
The offense that sputtered along in the first half exploded for 21 points in the third quarter. The defense that let Tennessee sustain a couple of drives of double-digit plays for field goals before the half put the clamps on emphatically.
The end result was a ninth straight win by at least 16 points and a fifth straight defeat of the Volunteers.
McCarron was 17-of-26 passing though a string of 152 passes without an interception -- third longest in school history -- ended on his second attempt.
It also halted Alabama's string of 50 possessions with no turnovers. Plus, the Tide failed to score on either of its first two possessions for the first time this season.
Those were just aesthetic matters given the final score.
Marquis Maze had five catches for 106 yards, including a 69-yarder.
Matt Simms completed 8 of 17 passes for 58 yards and an interception for Tennessee a week after facing LSU's defense. Tauren Poole managed 67 yards on 19 rushes.
"It's unfortunate the way the second half unfolded," Simms said. "It's just something we have to continue to learn from. We have to remember that the game's not over after halftime."
Whatever Saban told McCarron and the Tide at halftime, it clearly worked.
"He jumped our butts about it," wide receiver Darius Hanks said. "He said we had to come out and play better. I saw something different in all of us, the look in our eyes."
McCarron completed his first four passes of the second half for 73 yards, then covered the final 2 yards himself for the game's first touchdown.
Dooley then summoned one of his five fourth-down gambles, this one in Tennessee territory. Simms was stuffed inches shy on a sneak.
McCarron struck instantly, hitting Kenny Bell in the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown. There was little doubt after that.
Richardson got his 16th rushing touchdown by shrugging off a couple of attempted arm tackles for a 12-yard score. He added a 1-yarder with 9:27 left before heading to the bench.
The Vols cashed in on fourth-down gambles on each of their first-half field goal drives, including a fake punt that set up Michael Palardy's 52-yarder to tie it at 6-all. It was Tennessee's longest field goal since Jeff Hall's 53-yarder against Oklahoma State in 1995 and the first second quarter points the Tide had allowed all season.
It was the last big play for the Vols, offensively or defensively. Then, McCarron and the Tide defense took over.
"In the first half, they were trying to stop the run early," Richardson said, "and we just had to come back in the second half and punch them in the mouth."
Tennessee (3-3) at Alabama (7-0) Oct. 22, 7:15, ESPN2
Here's The Deal … Alabama vs. Auburn might be college football's greatest rivalry, at least until both Michigan and Ohio State rock again at the same time, and Tennessee vs. Florida might have put together a magical run of games through the 1990s, but Alabama vs. Tennessee is the SEC.
Started back in 1903 – at 24-0 Tennessee win – and played 91 times since, this is football in the south. This is what old school SEC fans really consider to be the matchup of matchups in the great conference, and this is the tradition-filled matchup that's been a mid-October special for generation after generation.
It's too bad the game will probably stink.
Alabama has won five of the last six in the series, including a 41-10 blasting last year. While it's been a bit one-sided lately, the Vols have had their moments in defeat, highlighted by a great effort in the 2009 game that turned out to be Bama's toughest test on the way to the national title. This year, consider it special if the game stays within 30.
Tennessee isn't all that bad, and despite the 3-3 start, head coach Derek Dooley is doing a whale of a job trying to piece things together. Hamstrung by the sins of previous regimes and with a slew of major injuries to key players proving to be too much to overcome, Dooley is trying to press on. His team didn't have a prayer against LSU last week, and now this week becomes a measuring stick for the national title showdown – let's just call it what it is – in a few weeks when the Tigers and Tide tussle.
LSU has been great, but Alabama has been better with a special season coming from a defense that's allowed a mere 49 points in seven games including 14 to an Arkansas attack averaging close to 40 per pop. However, that's the only game against an offense with a pulse. Tennessee might not be able to do much better than Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, or a quarterback-less Florida, but if Bama's head is already focusing on LSU, this could be worth paying attention to. And if Tennessee pulls off the shocker, it could turn out to be the greatest upset in the history of one of the SEC's greatest rivalries.
Why Tennessee Might Win: It's going to take something special on both sides of the ball, and it's going to take a spectacular gag from Alabama, but Tennessee still has just enough good athletes to be more than just a speed bump on the way to November 5th. The first step is to pick one thing on the Bama offense to take away, and that might mean ganging up on Trent Richardson.
The Vols don't have a pass rush, and that proved to be a major problem last week against LSU as Jarrett Lee had a sandwich every time he dropped back. AJ McCarron can't be allowed to get comfortable, and that means Tennessee has to do something different by taking several big chances to batter the passer. The Tide line will give up sacks from time to time, but McCarron was barely touched against Ole Miss and Florida didn't lay a finger on him.
However, Alabama's passing game isn't necessarily a juggernaut and the Vols have to make McCarron beat them. That means training any and all forces on stopping Richardson, and while that might seem easier said than done, the corners are just good enough to sell out the other nine defenders on keeping No. 3. Unfortunately …
Why Alabama Might Win: Ole Miss sort of tried that last week and McCarron was fantastic, completing 19-of-24 passes for 224 yards with a touchdown. The harsh reality for Tennessee is that the offense might not be able to move the ball a lick without making a huge mistake. Don't think that Alabama doesn't want to one-up what LSU did to the Vols last week and leave a lasting image that everyone will point to for the next two weeks.
Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms completing 6-of-20 passes for 128 yards with two picks, and while Tauren Poole got loose for one big gain, the awful Vol running game didn't go anywhere. Without Tyler Bray, who's still out with a broken thumb, the Tennessee passing game doesn't have any pop, and now Simms has to go against the No. 2 pass efficiency defense in America.
Forget about running the ball. Tennessee's offensive line isn't getting much of a push on anyone, much less a Tide run defense that leads the nation allowing just 38 yards per game. Yeah, Tennessee might train all its defensive forces on stopping Richardson, but Alabama doesn't need to do anything to stop Poole. The Vols were stuffed by Florida for -9 rushing yards and ended up with -21 yards against Florida. It'll be special if they get over 50 against the Tide D that'll be more than happy to let Simms throw.
What To Watch Out For: In 2009, the Heisman race fizzled early on, and then an Alabama running back took control and beat out a Stanford star for the award. This year, like when Mark Ingram beat Toby Gerhart, Richardson might be on his way to making it two Heismans in three years for the Tide, possibly beating another Stanford star for the honor. Red hot, he's hit the 100-yard mark in each of the last five games with 912 yards and 15 touchdowns so far on the year.
Last week against Ole Miss he had his signature moment with a brilliant hesitation move on one of his four touchdown dashes, and now the spotlight is on to hit the 1,000-yard mark just past the midway point. Last year he ran for 119 yards and a score on just 12 carries against the Vols.
Can Poole get loose to help the Tennessee offense do anything on the ground? He's a talented back who can't get free behind a line that's not giving him any room, and while he ran for 101 yards against both Cincinnati and Buffalo, and ran for 98 yards against Montana, he did a whole lot of nothing against Florida and Georgia and ran 19 times for 70 yards and a score against LSU. Last year he ran for 117 yards and a score on 14 carries against the Tide, but the entire Vol offense might have a problem hitting that mark.
What Will Happen: The Alabama defense will put on yet another show. Tennessee will pull out all the stops and will try several different quirky things, but nothing will work. The defense will keep the game interesting for a little while, but four Vol turnovers will turn it into a rout.
CFN Prediction: Alabama 41 … Tennessee 9
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Alabama -29.5 O/U: 45.5
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