Kevin C. Cox
In the wake of a predictable 44-13 loss to the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, Tennessee squanders opportunities
David didn't drop the rock when trying to slay Goliath.
The Tennessee Volunteers did -- in one case, literally -- in a 44-13 mistake-riddled loss to top-ranked Alabama on Saturday night. Justin Hunter dropped a potentially momentum-swinging touchdown pass just before halftime, and the Crimson Tide's elite athletes and championship depth made sure the Vols paid for the mistake afterward.
Bama rode 21 consecutive points in a second-half stretch to win its sixth consecutive game against Tennessee and send the Vols below .500. Derek Dooley, meanwhile, remains in a precarious position of having to either win out or lose just one more down the stretch to make a case for his job.
Last week was unacceptable. Tonight was just embarrassing.
Though Alabama's superior stars and more than one mistake did the Vols in, one moment on the orange side stood out above all others.
With UT trying to slice the lead to a score at the break, Tyler Bray delivered one of his few decent passes of the night to Justin Hunter, who'd gotten a step on the defender. The ball hit Hunter in his hands and squirted away, along with any chance the Vols had for momentum that could have turned into an upset. UT coach Derek Dooley inexplicably let the clock run down rather than attempt to score and and Bama built off the momentum it gained.
The second half offered few orange opportunities such as Tennessee getting the ball on the Alabama side of the field down just 23-10 before failing to get points. Then Bray threw an interception in the end zone later (down 30-10) to end all hope.
The Vols made mistake after crucial mistake on their way to another lopsided loss to their rivals. All of a sudden, a game that really didn't feel like a blowout was one.
All night, the defense smacked pad-for-pad with the Tide with defensive end Darrington Sentimore rushing A.J. McCarron and playing like we've never seen him before. Still, when third downs came and opportunities went, UT was more than a couple steps slow as well as being out-coached yet again. Mostly, however, the Vols were simply out-classed.
Offensively, Bray continued his junior swoon, throwing two interceptions and struggling to lead Tennessee to any sustained drives. UT finished 2-of-13 in third-down conversions with only 11 first downs.
Though Tennessee wasn't demolished on defense, the Vols were demoralized in the Tide's death-by-a-million-paper cuts offensive scheme. The Tide did what the Tide does, wearing down UT by staying on the field with 23 first downs. What didn't feel like a crushing defeat through the game certainly felt like one after -- and looked like it in the statistics. Bama had 233 rushing yards and 306 passing yards. A.J. McCarron finished with four passing touchdowns and was near flawless running Bama's bland scheme against a porous UT secondary.
Too many times, Bama got the edge on a run or got its speedy wide receivers in mismatches against Tennessee linebackers -- who are poor anyway at pass coverage. Then, most impressively, the Tide flashed a pair of shiny toys the Vols simply couldn't compete with in true freshmen wide receiver Amari Cooper and running back TJ Yeldon.
Simply put, they had another gear Tennessee couldn't match. Yeldon finished with 15 carries for 129 yards and a couple of scores, while Cooper had seven catches for 162 yards and two more scores, making Justin Coleman look downright silly in the process.
When you toss in massive mistakes -- such as Bray throwing way behind a momentarily-open Alton "Pig" Howard on his end zone interception or Eric Gordon getting totally lost in coverage on Bama's 30-yard opening scoring strike -- you cannot compete with No. 1.
We were left with having to cope with just how far away we are as a program from where we want to go. Still, it's hard not to feel like if we'd just made a couple of plays that were there for the taking, it would have been a different story and a closer game. Again, like a broken record, we failed to make any important plays. Even with Cordarrelle Patterson looking like one of the nation's most talented players with his hands on the ball, UT's offense simply sputtered most of the night against a superior opponent, and moral victories have long since passed for OK with Vols fans.
While Dooley will continue to have the heat applied to him -- and perhaps rightfully so -- this game wasn't one anybody really expected Tennessee to win. Maybe that's enough reason in itself to question whether Dooley is the answer. For all the faults this coaching staff has displayed, this game came down to a difference in elite talent ... again another reason why Dooley probably isn't the answer.
Maybe we can justify the hope that he is if Tennessee was to finish 8-4, it would mean the Vols upset a South Carolina team ripe for the picking and win out. It doesn't seem realistic, but then again, really neither does UT lining up next year with the same head coach it currently has. Who kicks a field goal down 44-10???
Johnny Majors was fired after he lost to South Carolina. Phillip Fulmer was fired after he lost to South Carolina. Will Dooley have the same fate after next week? At this point, it would argue that he shouldn't?
Saturday night was about honoring the past, as Fulmer was inducted into the Hall of Fame and Peyton Manning spent his bye week getting recognized and chatting up Cleveland Browns owner and major UT donor Jimmy Haslam in the luxury boxes. Two men who helped us reach such lofty heights witnessed us sink to deeper lows. What they've built has all been torn down.
The question is who will build us up again? And when?