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Originally published Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 8:52 PM

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Vols' offense struggles in 44-13 loss to Alabama

For the first time this season, Tennessee's offense couldn't produce. Then again, it hadn't faced a defense like Alabama.

AP Sports Writer

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. —

For the first time this season, Tennessee's offense couldn't produce. Then again, it hadn't faced a defense like Alabama.

Tennessee had scored at least 31 points in each of its first six games this season. The Vols didn't come close to that mark against No. 1 Alabama in a 44-13 loss Saturday night. Tyler Bray went 13-of-27 for 184 yards with no touchdown passes and two interceptions as the Vols reached the end zone just once all night.

"We got whipped by a great football team in just about every phase," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "I'm really disappointed we didn't execute a little better on offense. That's probably the thing I was a little surprised at. The quarterback didn't play well. I'm not sure why."

Dooley returned to the sidelines Saturday, less than two weeks after undergoing surgery on a fractured right hip. He had coached from the press box last week in a 41-31 loss at Mississippi State. 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.

Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 SEC) isn't the first offense to struggle against Alabama (7-0, 4-0). The Crimson Tide entered the night ranked first in the nation in total defense, scoring defense, run defense and pass efficiency defense.

But the Vols believed they could move the ball with their star-studded offense.

It didn't happen.

Michael Palardy's 32-yard field goal marked the first time all season Alabama had allowed points in the first quarter. Tennessee also reached the end zone on A.J. Johnson's 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The Vols' only other points came on a Palardy 21-yard field goal with 3:57 remaining, long after many of the 102,455 fans had filed for the exits.

"We weren't executing what we were supposed to," Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera said. "It was really disappointing because we are an explosive offense."

The Vols have lost 11 of their last 12 SEC games and are 0-14 against the Top 25 since Dooley took over the program in 2010.

Injuries helped explain the offense's struggles. Tennessee played without leading rusher Rajion Neal, who injured his ankle last week. Starting guard Zach Fulton left the game in the second quarter.

Marlin Lane actually did a respectable job replacing Neal, as he rushed for 55 yards on 15 carries and caught five passes for 48 yards. It was the usually high-powered passing attack that let Tennessee down.

Bray had thrown at least two touchdown passes in each of the Vols' first six games, but the Tide shut him down. Justin Hunter dropped a deep pass that would have put the Vols in the red zone in the closing seconds of the first half. Cordarrelle Patterson caught just one pass for 25 yards.

We were just too anxious out there and trying to get going too fast," Hunter said. We just need to go out there and play like we do in practice."

Tennessee's offense didn't have much margin for error because its defense has often been overmatched. That trend continued Saturday, as the Vols have now allowed 43.3 points per game in SEC competition.

Alabama's A.J. McCarron threw for a career-high 306 yards and matched a career high with four touchdown passes against Tennessee.

Amari Cooper caught seven passes for 162 yards, the most receiving yards ever by an Alabama freshman. He scored on a 23-yard reception in the first quarter and a 42-yard catch in the third quarter. Cooper also had a 30-yard touchdown in the third period nullified by a penalty.

T.J. Yeldon ran for 129 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries for his second consecutive game with at least 100 yards.

"We set the tone and we stayed on it," McCarron said. "We never let up, and that was the biggest thing Coach (Nick Saban) keeps preaching."

Alabama led 23-10 at halftime, and the Vols' best hopes for a comeback disappeared when they lost the ball on downs after reaching the Alabama 33 early in the third quarter. After Tyler Bray threw a third-and-1 incompletion, Johnson was stuffed on fourth down.

Alabama then put the game away by reaching the end zone on its next three drives.

McCarron connected with Cooper on a 42-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.

"They just keep pushing and pushing," Dooley said. "That's what they do to most everybody, and they did it to us too."

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.

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