TUSCALOOSA | The best run defense in the Southeastern Conference met the league's lowest-ranked rush offense Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the University of Alabama's 37-6 win over Tennessee.
The results were, for the most part, predictable.
Alabama held Tennessee to 92 rushing yards on 32 carries, marking the sixth consecutive game that the Crimson Tide has held its opponent under 100 rushing yards. The Volunteers found some running room early in the game as Tauren Poole compiled 50 yards by the half, but Poole finished with only 67 yards by game's end. Alabama entered the game as the nation's top defense against the run, allowing 38 yards per game. Alabama head coach Nick Saban noted at halftime that the Volunteers were effective in running the ball, but over the course of the second half the Crimson Tide defense closed the holes.
Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower credited defensive coordinator Kirby Smart with halftime adjustments that helped closed down running lanes.
"Coach Smart, I feel like he's the greatest in the country at adjusting to an offense after getting a bead on what they're trying to do," Hightower said. "He definitely did a really good job of that coming into halftime. He set us up. We knew what they were doing. He gave us a few different strategies and a few different ways of doing things."
The Volunteers entered the game as at the bottom of the SEC in rush offense at 89 yards per game. Tennessee had only one rushing first down for the game, and reserve Marlin Lane was ineffective in support of Poole with 21 yards on seven carries.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley led Alabama in tackles with eight, followed by Hightower (seven) and Courtney Upshaw (seven).
Upshaw said Poole's aggressiveness was a factor in the Volunteers' early rushing success.
"He's a good back. He's shifty and hits the hole hard," Upshaw said. "Once he sees the hole, or an opening, he's going to hit it. I would say he's probably the best back we've faced so far."
Poole was the last opposing rusher to gain 100-plus yards on the ground against the Crimson Tide with 117 last season. That performance snapped a 41-game streak by the UA defense without allowing a 100-yard rusher, and since then, Alabama has mounted a new such streak of 13 games.
UA linebacker Nico Johnson indicated that Poole's 100-yard performance against UA last year was not lost on the defense. Johnson added five stops.
"He was really good. He runs hard. We couldn't stop him as much in the first half. We prided ourselves during the week because last year. He got 100 (yards) on us," Johnson said. "We got off to a slow start in the first half, but we came back in the second half with a lot of intensity and better focus. We tried to contain him better, but he kept working hard and kept going."
Penn State is the only UA opponent to rush for 100-plus yards to date, when Silas Redd led a 107-yard effort in the second week of the season.
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.