The Volunteers fell behind 35-0 by halftime Saturday, switched to freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs and finished stronger before falling 45-10 to the Crimson Tide.
It was the 10th consecutive Southeastern Conference road loss and seventh in a row in the series for Tennessee (4-4, 1-3 SEC), which was coming off an upset of No. 20 South Carolina.
“We probably played our worst half of football that we have played all year,” coach Butch Jones said. “Some of it was due to the quality of our opponent. Some of it was self-inflicted wounds.
“Everything had a snowball effect. The next step in the evolution of our football program and football team is to learn how to win on the road.”
T.J. Yeldon scored on three 1-yard runs and A.J. McCarron completed 19 of27 passes for 275 yards and two first-half touchdowns for the Tide (8-0, 5-0).
McCarron said he took Tennessee players calling Alabama “the red team” personally and “wanted to come out and score as many points as possible on them.” He also said he didn’t want to leave the game whatever the score.
“And for their head coach to come out and say they can play against anybody, I don’t think we’re just anybody,” he said. “We won two national championships in a row and we’re undefeated right now. So we’re not just anybody.”
Landon Collins returned an interception 89 yards for another score for Alabama.
Jones summoned Dobbs to open the second half in his first college action, replacing a struggling Justin Worley.
Worley, who hurt his thumb last week, was 8-of-15 passing for 120 yards and was intercepted twice, including the pick-six to Collins.
“(Worley) could have went, but it was hard for him to throw with any velocity, so instead of risking further injury we went with Josh,” Jones said. “For a true freshman, playing for the first time in this kind of environment I thought he did very well.”
Dobbs didn’t make Tennessee’s last road trip to Florida, and seemed destined for a redshirt season. He did seem to provide a second-half spark.
Dobbs completed 5 of 12 passes for 75 yards, ran three times for 19 yards. Fellow freshman Marquez North, who helped set up the game-winning score against South Carolina, gained 87 yards on four catches.
Rajion Neal ran for 70 yards on 13 carries.
“In the second half, I thought our players showed grit and fight, but we just didn’t play winning football in all areas,” Jones said.
Alabama’s Kenyan Drake ran for 89 yards on 14 carries while Yeldon ran 15 times for 72 yards in his first three-touchdown game. Kevin Norwood caught six passes for 112 yards, including an acrobatic grab while falling backward in a catch coach Nick Saban called “unbelievable.”
The Tide, which earlier had a 104-0 scoring binge ended, had allowed only nine points in its first four home games. Neal’s 3-yard run early in the fourth quarter was the first touchdown Alabama had allowed at Bryant-Denny Stadium this season.
“We knew Tennessee was a team that could play with anybody in the country,” Saban said. “I think it was a challenge for our guys to prove who we were and how we could play against them.”
Dobbs didn’t complete a pass on his first drive but Neal’s 43-yard run set up Michael Palardy’s field to snap Alabama’s string of unanswered points. That was the fifth-biggest such streak in Tide history, going back to the third quarter of the Kentucky game on Oct. 12.
Tennessee did have early scoring chances. Worley misfired on fourth-and-7 from Alabama’s 34. He led the Vols to the Tide 24 late in the first half but Collins then returned an interception the distance in the final seconds.
Collins took over the starting spot this week when Vinnie Sunseri went down with a season-ending knee injury against Arkansas.
Alabama starting nose tackle Brandon Ivory missed the game for unspecified medical reasons. Saban said running back Jalston Fowler sustained a concussion in the first half, and he didn’t return.
Saban had urged early-departing students to stick around for the full game. One responded with a sign saying, “We’ll stay for 60 if you stay forever.”
“That sounds good to me,” responded Saban, the subject of job rumors each offseason. “I’m too damn old to go someplace else and start over, I can tell you that.”