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Alabama delivers near-perfect performance

 

By Ben Price, Special to The Dispatch

 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Perfection is the goal each time Nick Saban and his Alabama defense step on a football field. 

 

Continuing a dominating and historic run, the Alabama Crimson Tide defense didn't quite achieve perfection Saturday night but Saban seemed satisfied with what he saw from his team. 

 

"I can't tell you how proud I am of the way our players competed in this game and it was a great job by our coaches," Saban said. "I'm really happy, our players are really happy and I hope our fans are really happy." 

 

In a now inappropriately named cross divisional Southeastern Conference rivalry known as the Third Saturday in October Alabama hammered the Tennessee Volunteers 42-10. 

 

While the Crimson Tide's offense has been putting up some of the best numbers in school history, it's the Alabama defense that's stealing headlines in Tuscaloosa. 

 

"This is a 110 year old rivalry that means a lot to a lot of people in the state of Alabama. I'm very proud of the job that the players and the coached did," Saban said. "We knew Tennessee was the kind of team that could play with anybody in the country. We challenged our guys to prove who we were." 

 

Alabama has been especially dominant in their last six games. During that stretch after their win against Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide's defense has allowed a measly 26 total points to their opponents. In fact, Tennessee's fourth quarter touchdown was the first time the Crimson Tide had allowed an opponent in the end zone at Bryant-Denny Stadium since Texas A&M in the 2012 season. 

 

That kind of play from the Alabama defense has come to be expected under Saban. 

 

"This was a tough, physical, competitive game, and I've been really pleased with the way the guys have come out the past four games that we've played and get off to a really good start," Saban said.  

 

Tennessee and first-year coach Butch Jones had their chances early on but were shut down each time by an unyielding Alabama defense. 

 

Faced with a fourth down early on, the Volunteers elected to leave their offense on the field instead of attempting a long field goal. Alabama's defense toughened up as they have all year and forced an incomplete pass.  

 

"It's just constantly practicing and constantly knowing our jobs and doing it to perfection," Alabama safety Landon Collins said. "That's what we did when we stepped out on the field, and that's all we do." 

 

Later in the first half Tennessee had yet another chance to put points on the scoreboard and stay in the ballgame. They were once again brought to a screeching halt by the Alabama defense. 

 

From the Alabama 24-yard line, Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley dropped back to pass and thought he had an open receiver in Marquez North near the Alabama end zone. Crimson Tide safety Landon Collins came streaking into the picture at the last moment and cut off the passing lane, intercepting Worley at the 11-yard line. Collins picked up a couple of blocks as he raced down the sideline on his way to an 89-yard return for a touchdown. This pick-six upped Alabama's lead to 35-0 over the Vols and put away any hopes of a comeback.  

 

"I knew he was going out, so I read the break and broke on the ball towards the wide receiver and caught the pick. He threw it right to me," Collins said. "After that it was to the house because I didn't see anyone in front of me but my linemen." 

 

The Alabama Crimson Tide made it tough for the Tennessee offense all night, but especially early on. The Volunteers managed just 165 yards of total offense in the first half and went into the break without a point. 

 

Meanwhile, Alabama's offense was doing their best to match what the defense was doing. Quarterback A.J. McCarron and crew scored touchdowns on each of their first four possessions. They scored on drives of 51, 66, 66 and 81 yards to squash a stingy Tennessee defense that was coming off an impressive performance last week against South Carolina.  

 

Perhaps the most impressive performer on that side of the ball for Alabama was Mississippi native and wide receiver Kevin Norwood. Known reluctantly as a possession receiver, Norwood showed Saturday afternoon he's an all-around player that can do it all. His six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown led all receivers on the afternoon. It was also the first 100-yard game of Norwood's career.  

 

Throughout the season Norwood has been a key threat in the Alabama offense, but in a group of receivers so deep and talented it has been a struggle to separate himself from the rest. After this performance however, he leads the Crimson Tide in receiving yards and is tied for the team lead in touchdown catches. 

 

Alabama took a 35-0 lead into halftime of this heated rivalry after playing a nearly perfect first two quarters. There was just one matter of business left to attend to for the Crimson Tide faithful.  

 

Saban had a message for his fans earlier in the week when he asked them to stay for the entire game, no matter the score.  

 

"All I'm asking is that you just come and have fun and stay for the whole game," Saban said. 

 

The fans answered that call Saturday afternoon. With a lopsided score and the game well in hand by halftime, almost all of the capacity crowd of 101,821 at Bryant-Denny Stadium stayed until the final whistle. Not to the surprise of the fans, Saban took notice. 

 

"I certain appreciated our fans today. They stayed for the game and did a great job of supporting our team. It was a great atmosphere for our players to play in," Saban said.  

 

Up next for Alabama is a bye week followed by a home game against the LSU Tigers, a showdown that has been circled on the calendar of many for months. It's especially big for Collins, a Louisiana native who felt a lot of pressure to choose the Tigers out of high school. 

 

"You get defined by what you do every week," Saban said. "We've got some big challenges and some stiff competition against some very good teams coming up. It's going to be important for us to be able to focus on the bye week to try and improve." 

 

 

 

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