Bama breaks out cigars after breaking open tight game
By MICHAEL CASAGRANDE
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A foreign smell filled the hallway outside the Alabama locker room Saturday night.
When the door swung open, the smoke burned from the end of a few cigars as the Crimson Tide walked to the bus through a mob of cheering fans and flashing cameras.
Who said this rivalry lost its flare this fall?
Before lighting up the stogies, Alabama smoked Tennessee with a huge second half to win its fourth straight over the Volunteers, 41-10 in front of a once-packed Neyland Stadium.
After the 21-point Alabama third quarter, the orange exodus was on. There was no need for a blocked field goal to secure this win over the Vols.
Snapping out the offensive funk that slowed the Alabama offense for 2 1/2 weeks, the Tide (7-1, 4-1 SEC) exploded for touchdowns on two of the first six plays of the third quarter to take the air out of the stadium energized by a tight first half.
“I just said everything would be more fun, guys, if we play with more intensity,” coach Nick Saban said of his halftime speech. “It will be a lot easier. It will be a lot more fun, and that’s basically what I thought we did.”
By ground or by air, everything was clicking again while Tennessee (2-5, 0-4) squandered its only real shots at staying in contention with an interception following Alabama’s second quick touchdown.
A pair of Julio Jones catches highlighted the opening march of the second half as the junior played through a surgically repaired left hand to rack up a school record 221 receiving yards and 12 catches. He hauled in a 38-yarder on the first play of the quarter then a 19-yarder to set up Mark Ingram’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Then it was up to the running game.
After Tennessee drove 10 plays but left a 53-yard field goal several yards short, Trent Richardson pumped life back into the stagnant ground game. His 65-yard touchdown run pushed the advantage to 27-10.
As for those cigars, Richardson, who ran for 119 yards total on 12 carriers, wasn’t reaching for the lighter.
“I got one,” he said with a smile. “But I’m not going to smoke it. I’m just going to put it up for a souvenir.”
The capacity crowd didn’t file out in droves until Ingram capped the following nine-play drive with a 1-yard plunge that put the game out of reach at 34-10.
Outside of Saban’s passionate halftime speech that wide receiver Marquis Maze gauged at a 10 on the intensity meter, a few adjustments were made before the Tide torched the Vols for 200 third-quarter yards to finish with 536 total.
With the Vols packing defenders in the box to slow the run, leaving Jones with man coverage on the edge, Saban said they had few options.
“They were playing with a middle-of-the-field safety, so they did a good job on him at times, but they were really kind of squatting on the routes, so we had no choice but to try to throw the ball over their head,” Saban said. “Greg made some great throws, and (Julio) made some great catches.”
McElroy completed 21-of-32 passes for 264 yards and was sacked just once after taking 11 in the past two games.
Outside of Tauren Poole’s 59-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, the Vols had little success offensively.
Still, the Tide lead was sliced to 13-10 by halftime.
The only Alabama touchdown came on McElroy’s one-yard plunge that gave the Tide a 10-7 lead in the opening minute of the second quarter. It had to settle for three other field goals of which two were successful. Jeremy Shelley drilled the upright on a 25-yard attempt that started with a high snap.
That left Poole’s touchdown looming large.
Breaking through the line of scrimmage clean, the Vol running back froze safety Mark Barron before outrunning cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to the goal line for a 7-0 advantage.
Outside of that run and the long drive that closed the first half, the Vols made little headway against the Alabama defense that locked in for a second straight week. The SEC’s best scoring offense made six tackles for loss and had two sacks in spite of allowing Tauren Poole to become the first opposing running back to break the 100-yard mark in 41 games.