Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron passed for a career-high 306 yards and four touchdowns, connecting with freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper seven times for 162 yards and two scores as the top-ranked Crimson Tide (7-0 overall; 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference) dominated Tennessee (3-4 overall; 0-4 SEC) in a 44-13 victory before a capacity crowd of 102,455 at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night. Freshman running back T.J. Yeldon rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Alabama ground game.
The latest renewal of the storied "Third Saturday in October" rivalry was marked by an explosive night by the Alabama offense, which rolled to 539 yards of total offense behind a potent passing game. The Alabama defense bottled up what had been an exciting Tennessee offense, limiting the Volunteers to 282 total yards on the night while forcing two turnovers. Alabama repelled Tennessee drives inside Crimson Tide territory several times, including a fourth-down stop at the Tide 33 and an interception by safety Robert Lester in the end zone that snuffed another Volunteers' threat.
Cooper had six catches for 120 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone as the Tide raced to a 23-10 lead at intermission before putting away the game in the second half. The victory was Alabama's sixth straight in the series. McCarron enjoyed an efficient night passing as he completed 17 of 22 attempts just one week after suffering a minor knee injury in the second half against Missouri.
The teams exchanged punts following the game's first three possessions before Cyrus Jones took a Tennessee punt at the Alabama 21-yard line and returned it 32 yards via excellent blocking to set up the Crimson Tide offense at the Volunteers' 37-yard line with 11:28 left in the first quarter. McCarron and Cooper keyed the ensuing drive. A 12-yard pass to Cooper on the second play of the march got things moving for Alabama to the Tennessee 33. After a key five-yard pass to tight end Michael Williams converted a third-and-four play to the Tennessee 23, McCarron found Cooper all alone in the right corner of the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Alabama lead with 8:18 remaining in the first quarter.
On the next possession, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray hit running back Marlin Lane on a screen pass that Lane took for 25 yards to the Crimson Tide 47-yard line. Four plays later, Bray hit receiver Cordarrelle Patterson on a fly route for 25 yards to the Alabama nine-yard line. A fumbled pitchout by Patterson two plays later moved the Vols back to the 14-yard line to set up a third-and-goal play that ended in a pass incompletion in the end zone. A 32-yard field goal by Michael Palardy put the Vols on the board with 3:38 left in the first quarter as the lead was narrowed to 7-3. That score marked the first first-quarter points allowed by Alabama this season.
Alabama marched to the Tennessee 27 on the ensuing drive but Cade Foster missed a 44-yard field goal attempt. On the third play of the ensuing Tennessee possession, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley intercepted a Bray pass at the Tennessee 32. After T.J. Yeldon rushed for eight yards on first down, five yards on second down and burst for 19 yards to the Tennessee 1 before taking it into the end zone for a one-yard run over left tackle with 11:23 left in the second quarter. Jeremy Shelley's extra point attempt was blocked by Tennessee and the Crimson Tide held a 13-3 lead.
On Alabama's next possession, after a Tennessee punt, the Tide started at its own 28. Lacy ran for three on the first play, then Cooper made a leaping catch on a fly pattern on a 54-yard pass play to the Tennessee 15-yard line. Lacy spun around a would-be tackler on the next play and ran for 14 yards to the one-yard line. McCarron hit Williams for a one-yard touchdown pass on the next play and Shelley's kick was good for a 20-3 Alabama lead with 6:55 left in the second quarter.
Patterson returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards to the Alabama 48. One play later, Bray connected with tight end Mychal Rivera on a short in the middle of the Alabama defense and Rivera took it 43 yards to the Alabama five-yard line. After an Alabama penalty took the ball to the two-yard line, Tennessee's A.J. Johnson, a linebacker by trade, lined up at quarterback in the wildcat formation and rushed two yards for a touchdown to narrow the Alabama lead to 20-10 with 5:32 left in the second period.
On the first play of the next possession, Cooper took a short pass and eluded several defenders on a 14-yard catch to the Alabama 44. On third-and-six play at the Alabama 48, McCarron patiently hit wide receiver Kenny Bell on a short crossing pattern that Bell turned into a 29-yard gain to the Tennessee 23. The drive stalled at the Tennessee 17 where Shelley's 34-yard field goal attempt split the uprights to give Alabama a 23-10 lead with 1:24 remaining in the second quarter.
Alabama took the opening kickoff of the second half and march to apparent touchdown by Cooper on a 30-yard scoring play that was nullified by an illegal formation penalty on the Crimson Tide. Foster's 45-yard field goal attempt on the next play was off the mark and the Crimson Tide had missed another scoring opportunity.
After an exchange of punts, Tennessee started a possession at the Alabama 42, but that potential threat was stopped when the Alabama defense stuffed a fourth-and-one rush by A.J. Johnson at the Tide 33. Alabama took over after that exchange and put the game away. On the sixth play of the ensuing drive, McCarron dropped back and connected with Cooper on a deep route at the goal line and Cooper scored to give Alabama a 30-10 lead with 2:56 left in the third quarter. The catch set a new single-game receiving yards mark for an Alabama freshman, giving him 162 yards at the time.
McCarron connected with receiver Kenny Bell down the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 12:46 remaining in the game to give Alabama a 37-10 lead. That march was jump started by five runs by Yeldon that covered 41 yards, including bursts of 16 and 13 yards, prior to Bell's catch and run to the end zone.
Yeldon capped the Tide's scoring on Alabama's next drive with a 43-yard run to cap a three-play, 58-yard march, to extend the margin to 44-10 with 9:07 left in the game. Michael Palardy's 21-yard field goal for Tennessee with 3:57 left capped the scoring while narrowing the margin to 44-13.
The winning margin of 31 points equaled the largest margin of victory for the Crimson Tide over Tennessee in Knoxville, matching the 41-10 win by Alabama in 2010.