Tennessee vs. Alabama: 10 Things We Learned in Tide's Win

Sanjay Kirpalani@@SanjayKirpalaniNational Recruiting AnalystOctober 27, 2013

Tennessee vs. Alabama: 10 Things We Learned in Tide's Win

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    Alabama’s 45-10 blowout win over Tennessee put an exclamation point on a dominant October stretch in which the Tide won their past four games by a combined margin of 190-20.

    The Tide’s offense produced another balanced effort, and Nick Saban’s defense suffocated the Vols offense, especially in the first half when the game was in doubt.

    Butch Jones and the Vols failed to capitalize on the momentum gained from last week’s upset victory over South Carolina.

    What are the main takeaways from the Tide’s victory over the Vols?

10. Tide Continue to Start Fast

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    For the third time in its past four games, Alabama jumped out to a lead of at least 14 points by the end of the first quarter.

    Against the Vols, the Tide took the opening kickoff and found the end zone in just three plays en route to a 21-0 lead after the first 15 minutes.

    With a raucous crowd inside Bryant-Denny Stadium riled up due to the fast start, Tennessee’s chances to make this game interesting were essentially ruined before it could blink.

    The 35-0 halftime score added to the Tide’s trend of leading big at halftime. According to ESPN’s Stats and Info Twitter account, Alabama has outscored its past six opponents 151-0 in the first half.

9. Vols QB Quandary

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    Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley struggled mightily against the Tide before exiting the game with a thumb injury.

    The Tide harassed Worley into going just 8-of-15 for 120 yards and two interceptions—with Landon Collins housing the second one for a crushing pick-six just before halftime.

    The numbers don’t illustrate how ineffective Worley was. Considering how both of his picks fluttered before finding their way into the arms of the Tide’s defensive backs, it’s clear that he wasn’t 100 percent before he was relieved.

    Josh Dobbs only went 5-of-12 for 75 yards, but he looked more decisive as a passer and even made some plays with his legs in the second half.

    Considering Dobbs made his first appearance of the season, it will be interesting to see how Jones handles the quarterback decision moving forward.

8. Collins Steps in for Sunseri

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    Alabama’s secondary has undergone several transformations this season, with the latest upheaval coming with last week's season-ending injury to safety Vinnie Sunseri.

    However, sophomore safety Landon Collins has played well all season in dime packages and on special teams.

    Collins made his presence felt with an 86-yard interception return for a touchdown that punctuated the Tide’s dominant first-half performance against Tennessee.

    While Sunseri will be missed on the field and from a leadership standpoint, plugging in someone as talented as Collins is almost unfair. He has all the makings of becoming another dominant safety molded by Saban and Kirby Smart.

7. UT Unable to Weather First-Half Tide Blitz

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    Right after Alabama receiver Christion Jones raced 48 yards near midfield with the opening kickoff, Tennessee’s defense was instantly pinned back on its heels, and it was unable to gain any solid footing until the second half.

    Against a powerful team like the Tide, the Vols failed to meet the intensity of the two-time defending champs well until the game’s outcome had already been decided.

    Considering that Alabama represents the fifth-ranked opponent Tennessee has played in its past six games, Jones and his defense is getting a crash course in what it’s like to deal with the rigors of playing against the best teams in the SEC.

6. Belue Developing into Lockdown CB

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    With Dee Milliner leaving for the NFL, one of the biggest questions entering the 2013 season surrounded the Tide’s group of corners.

    Deion Belue—who struggled mightily at times in 2012—was the guy who would be counted upon to be the lockdown presence on the outside for Saban’s defense.

    Considering the moving parts in the secondary, Belue has been the rock of that unit all season despite battling injuries at times this season.

    Belue notched his first interception of the season late in the first half, and his play has been a huge part of the defense’s turnaround since the Texas A&M game.

5. Jones Still in Rebuilding Phase

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    Tennessee had every reason to roll over coming out for the second half against Alabama.

    The Tide carried a 35-0 lead into the third quarter, and Tennessee—whose next two games feature a road trip at No. 5 Missouri and a home date with No. 11 Auburn—is in the midst of a schedule that almost appears criminal.

    However, the Vols played the Tide to a draw in the second half and displayed some grit on both sides of the ball by playing hard until the final whistle.

    With exciting young players such as Dobbs and receiver Marquez North (four receptions for 87 yards), Vols fans can expect brighter days ahead with Jones guiding their program.

4. Special Teams Unit Continues to Give Tide a Spark

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    One place where the Tide’s dominance has been somewhat underappreciated is their special teams unit.

    That dominance was once again on full display against the Volunteers. Christion Jones raced to kickoff returns of 57 and 48 yards that setup the Tide's offense with great field position. Punter Cody Mandell downed his first punt inside the Tennessee 10-yard line.

    If there’s one place the Tide will search from improvement, it’s on their kickoff coverage unit. Tennessee’s Devrin Young averaged nearly 29 yards per attempt on his five returns.

    However, those numbers are a small blemish in what has been an outstanding display for the special teams unit all season long.  

3. Norwood Steps Up

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    Alabama’s receiver unit has reverted back to the committee approach this season, with seemingly a different pass-catcher stepping up every week.

    Against Tennessee, it was senior Kevin Norwood’s turn in the spotlight. Norwood torched the Vols by hauling in six passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.

    His afternoon included a ridiculous grab late, captured here by B/R's Kyle Newport, in the third quarter that set up the Tide’s first touchdown in the second half.

2. Offense Continues to Find Balance

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    Alabama fell just short of eclipsing the 500-yard mark in total offense for the third consecutive game.

    However, in rolling up 484 yards against the Vols, Doug Nussmeier’s troops put together another solid effort in dismantling a solid conference opponent.

    AJ McCarron put together a workmanlike effort, going 19-of-27 for 275 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Kevin Norwood and Amari Cooper combined to record 11 catches for 187 yards and two scores.

    With the Tide continuing to find success through the air and on the ground, the offense is evolving into a dominant unit heading into the final month of the season.

1. Tide's Dominance of UT Rivalry Continues

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    Tennessee has struggled mightily against Alabama since Nick Saban has planted roots in Tuscaloosa.

    Saturday’s 45-10 victory is the fourth straight win for Alabama over Tennessee by a margin of at least 30 points. It was also the Tide's seventh straight win over the Vols.  

    While Butch Jones may get the Vols turned around in the future, it’s clear that Tennessee is clearly still a few notches below the level Saban and the Tide are currently operating on.