KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | The University of Alabama defense had seen all sorts of schemes and styles entering Saturday night's showdown against rival Tennessee. But one thing it hadn't yet seen - thanks largely to opposing quarterbacks on the schedule to date being injured - was a big-time passer.
Tyler Bray administered just that test to the Alabama secondary Saturday.
And by any grading curve, the Crimson Tide passed in a 44-13 victory.
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Bray completed only 13 of 27 passes for 184 yards, and threw a pair of costly interceptions before the UT coaching staff opted to play backup Justin Worley in the fourth quarter.
Bray entered the game ranked second in the Southeastern Conference in passing yards per game at 288. More than that, he can simply make some throws not every quarterback on the Crimson Tide schedule can make. But with a home crowd behind him and one of the league's more dynamic receiving duos to throw to, Bray simply wasn't able to make enough of them against the Crimson Tide.
"One of our goals is to come into a game and rattle the quarterback," linebacker Nico Johnson said. "If we can stop the run and rattle the quarterback, it'll make it more difficult on him."
UA linebacker C.J. Mosley intercepted Bray in the first half.
On a key third-and-4 early in the second half, Bray had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage to force a punt. And when the Volunteers offense most desperately needed a score from their talented junior, behind 30-10 late in the third quarter, Bray threw a second interception to UA safety Robert Lester in the Alabama end zone.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart kept the Crimson Tide in its nickel package for most of the night.
Although the UA defense was largely successful in defending Bray, it wasn't without its rougher moments. Bray connected with Cordarrelle Patterson, Marlin Lane, Mychal Rivera and Justin Hunter for completions of 25, 26, 41 and 44 yards, respectively. UA coach Nick Saban said the key for his defenders was to not allow one big play by Tennessee to follow another.
"One of our musts coming into this game was that we would have to play the next play," Saban said. "They have so many big play capabilities, and they've made so many big plays all year long, we kept telling our guys 'You've got to have resiliency, because they're going to make some plays in the game some kind of way, with the two wide outs they've got and the quarterback's ability to throw the ball down the field.'"
There was also some good fortune for Alabama.
With good protection in the final seconds of the first half, Bray threw a deep strike to Hunter on a deep route, but Hunter dropped the ball and the Vols ran out the clock. Hunter had beaten Deion Belue on the play, and the catch would have put UT in field goal range.
Bray got good protection for much of the night, yet cornerbacks Dee Milliner and Belue still managed to keep Patterson and Justin Hunter largely in check. Damion Square got an early knockdown on Bray and Jeoffrey Pagan got good pressure on an incompletion in the second quarter. Jesse Williams got a knockdown of Bray as well. But for the most part, the Volunteers pass protection kept Bray's jersey relatively clean.
The play of the Alabama secondary, however, was even cleaner.
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