KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Alabama may have a championship-caliber offense to go along with its best-in-the-nation defense.
A.J. McCarron threw four touchdown passes and passed for a career-high 306 yards Saturday as the top-ranked Crimson Tide trounced Tennessee 44-13 at Neyland Stadium. Freshman receiver Amari Cooper caught seven passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns, while freshman running back T.J. Yeldon ran for 129 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
Tyler Bray went 13-of-27 for 184 yards with two interceptions and no touchdown passes for Tennessee. The Volunteers had scored at least 31 points in each of their first six games, but they couldn't muster much offense against an Alabama team that entered Saturday leading the country in total defense, scoring defense, run defense and pass efficiency defense.
Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 SEC) has lost 11 of its last 12 SEC games and is 0-14 against the Top 25 since Derek Dooley took over the program in 2010. The different circumstances facing each team were evident from a look at the stands, as more than one-third of the 102,455 fans were cheering for Alabama (7-0, 4-0). By the midway point of the fourth quarter, many of the Tennessee fans already had headed to the parking lot.
The Vols pulled out all the stops in their attempt to beat a top-ranked team for the first time since their 38-20 triumph over Auburn on Sept. 28, 1985.
No such luck this time.
Cooper put Alabama ahead opened the scoring and put the Crimson Tide ahead to stay by getting all alone in the right corner of the end zone for a 23-yard catch midway through the first quarter.
Tennessee's beleaguered defense had forced a three-and-out on Alabama's opening possession, but the Tide scored on four of their next five drives to take a 23-10 halftime lead. Alabama's lone scoreless series the rest of the first half came when Cade Foster was wide right on a 44-yard field-goal attempt.
The Vols' best hopes for a second-half comeback disappeared when they lost the ball on downs after reaching the Alabama 33 early in the third quarter. After Bray threw a third-and-1 incompletion, Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson took a fourth-down snap out of the Vols' "Beast" formation and was stopped short of the first down.
Alabama then put the game away by reaching the end zone on its next three drives.
McCarron connected with Cooper on a 49-yard touchdown pass that extended the Tide's lead to 30-10 late in the third quarter. McCarron found Kenny Bell for a 39-yard completion that made it 37-10, then Yeldon raced 43 yards around the right end with 9:07 left in the game.
Before the game, Tennessee honored former Vols coach Phillip Fulmer and his 1997 SEC championship team that featured Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who made it to campus for the ceremony. Dooley returned to the sideline less than two weeks after undergoing surgery on a fractured right hip.
Dooley had worked from the sideline last week in a 41-31 loss at Mississippi State and said he felt uncomfortable not being able to look his players in the eyes. Tennessee officials said before the game he'd sit on a stool throughout the game, but he instead worked the sidelines on crutches while frequently being shadowed by an officer as well as assistant coach Antone Davis.