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October 22, 2011

Passing game flies high

TUSCALOOSA | It happened in a flash. One minute and 51 seconds to be exact. That's precisely how long it took to turn a tie game on its ear and on its way to a laugher. And a team known for its ground-and-pound running game did it via the air.

The University of Alabama offense came out of the half, took its first drive 75 yards in five plays - all called passing plays - for a touchdown and essentially took the drama out of its annual clash with Tennessee.

Starting quarterback AJ McCarron threw the ball 15 times in the first half, including seven of the offense's first 11 plays, but he was virtually ineffective as Alabama failed to dent Tennessee's red-zone defense and went to the half tied with the Volunteers at 6.

However, his next four passes changed the game as he connected for consecutive gains of 22, 14, 20 and 17 yards then scrambled on a called passing play for the go-ahead touchdown.

"We just made the decision at halftime," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I said, 'Look, these guys are playing middle of the field closed, eight-man front every snap, overloading the box to the tight end side,' and I said, 'You've got to throw the ball. You've got to throw the ball on first down.'

"We did it, and we had success. We did a good job of throwing them and catching them, made some big plays and I think that opened up the game for us a little bit. Then we were able to run it a little better after that as well."

McCarron got the message, completing 9 of 11 second-half passes for 162 yards and a touchdown as the Crimson Tide pulled away for a resounding victory.

McCarron finished with a career-high 284 yards passing. He completed 17 of 26 attempts with a touchdown pass and an interception. The lone score came a play after the UA defense stuffed Tennessee on a fourth-and-short attempt from the Volunteers' 40.

Wasting no time, Alabama went deep and McCarron connected with Kenny Bell for a 39-yard touchdown that put the Crimson Tide ahead two scores.

"I just ran a great route, AJ put it up there for me and I made a play on it," Bell said. "We just took what they gave us. We had a feeling they were going to stack the box because Trent (Richardson) has been doing so good in the running game, so they just put everything on the receivers' shoulders and we just handled our business."

It was Bell's first career touchdown.

Senior Marquis Maze continued his stellar season with a team-high five catches for 106 yards. Fellow senior Darius Hanks grabbed three receptions for 55 yards while Bell and Richardson both caught three passes for 52 and 33 yards, respectively.

So what was the difference in the second half?

"Coach Saban got in our butts. That's all I can say really. He jumped our butts," Hanks said. "(In the second half) I seen something different in all of us really. We all had a look in our eyes like we wanted the game."

McCarron's interception on his second pass attempt of the game was his first since tossing two in his first career start against Kent State in the opening game of the season. The interception by Tennessee middle linebacker Austin Johnson ended McCarron's streak of 152 pass attempts without an interception, the third longest streak in UA history behind Brodie Croyle (190) and Jay Barker (155).

Phillip Sims completed 1 of 2 passes for 10 yards.

Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron.suttles@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0229.


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