|AJ McCarron had one of the best games of his career for Alabama on Saturday. (AP)|
ALABAMA WON. Despite it being the famed "Third Saturday in October," the Tide's business was as usual as it gets Saturday. Early mistakes forced and turned into points? Check. Comfortable halftime lead? Check. Just enough early third-quarter ambivalence to let the opponent think they might have a prayer? Check. Further defensive clampdown, pounding running game, and ultra-effiicient passing game put back on display en route to laughably lopsided final score? Check, check, check, check.
The star of Alabama's show Saturday was freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper, who continued defying the conventional wisdom that Alabama's lone weakness might be the lack of a gamebreaking receiver. He finished with seven receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
WHY ALABAMA WON: Of course, Cooper wouldn't have had nearly such an impact without the guy throwing him the ball. It's become apparent over the course of the season that AJ McCarron has matured into much more than the stereotypical "game manager" he's often assumed to be (and admittedly was for portions of 2011). That development was put to full use Saturday as McCarron delivered his passes with both confidence and accuracy, flashed his usual stellar pocket presence, and even showed off an NFL-grade arm on a coupel of long completions to Cooper and proverbial "ropes" over the middle. The numbers were nice -- career highs of 306 yards and four touchdowns, again without an interception -- but they don't tell you that McCarron was the Tide's biggest offensive weapon.
Contrast that with poor Tyler Bray, who had the misfortune of facing the Alabama defense rather than his own, but still lost the quarterbacking battle in decisive fashion. The junior went 13-of-27 for 184 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. The Vols' rushing game is far from the smoldering crater it was in 2011, but the Vols are still going to go as far as Bray can take them and no farther. When he's as badly outplayed by his opposite number as he was Saturday, Tennessee simply doesn't have a chance.
WHEN ALABAMA WON: Believe it or not, Tennessee was on the verge of making it a game midway through the third quarter. Down 23-10 and facing a third-and-1 on the Tide's 33, the Vols went for it all, running play-action that Alabama snuffed out with ease. On fourth down, Derek Dooley called for his Wildcat package with defender A.J. Johnson. Johnson was stuffed, the Tide took just six plays to score a touchdown going the other direction, and the rout was on.
WHAT ALABAMA WON: A sixth consecutive win for Nick Saban over Tennessee, a 7-0 (4-0 SEC) start to the season, another week as the unanimous No. 1 team in all of college football. Again: the usual stuff.
WHAT TENNESSEE LOST: The number of games Derek Dooley could win and singlehandedly save his job continues to dwindle. This wasn't one anyone outside the most die-hard of Tennessee fans was expecting, but that's yet another opportunity against a ranked team (at home, with a good crowd no less) gone by the boards. That it came in embarrassing 31-point fashion won't help his cause, either.