TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Football games are supposed to be several hour-long affairs. You can settle in, grab some chips and hang onto the edge of your seat until the final whistle blows.
Halfway through Alabama's season, it's played out more like a bad mystery novel. The plot is simple and the outcome predictable after just 15 minutes. The Tide have outscored opponents 83-0 in the first quarter, riding out the final three periods on auto pilot.
Alabama's play on the road has been especially brutal to the opposition. Any hope of hanging with the No. 1 team in the country is gone by intermission. The Tide's average lead at halftime is 24.5 points.
"Every team that plays Alabama gets geeked up because they've been the standard of college football," said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, who's Volunteers host Alabama on Saturday night. "The important thing is keeping a level of belief and a level of mental and physical stamina over four quarters.
"What makes them so good is they will try to wipe out that belief that every team has when they play them by how they play, how physical they play, how consistent they play, and the discipline they play with."
Alabama's had a nagging habit of taking the crowd out of the game early. Missouri's Faurot Field was a ghost town after a 40-minute lightning delay. The weather played its part, but so did the 27-point lead.
"It’s always a big, key thing for us to get rolling early," said UA quarterback AJ McCarron. "We’ve got to start fast. We kind of struggled at Arkansas right off the bat for about the first two drives, then finally got everything going. Just gotta come out with a lot of energy and get momentum going our way early in the game."
Coming out ready to play hasn't been an issue for the Tide, sustaining that energy has. Missouri came back after the delay and took the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for the score. The Tigers punched back and the Tide staggered, fumbling twice and playing poorly on both sides of the ball.
Maintaining momentum, rather than losing it during halftime or any delay, has been a focus all week, said UA coach Nick Saban.
"A key for us is to sustain some kind of standard of consistency in terms of how we play," Saban said.
Said right tackle D.J. Fluker: “We have to start out fast and hit them again and keep that same tempo going through all focus all four quarters ... We don’t want to come out slack; we want to come out with an aggressiveness, come at them fast.”
Starting running back Eddie Lacy said the quick starts have been "very important," for the team. He took the second play from scrimmage against Missouri 73 yards for a touchdown. UA finished the game with a season-high 362 rushing yards.
"It takes the momentum away," he said.
Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers said he expects more of the same from Alabama on Saturday. He called Alabama's line one of the biggest in football and noted that if the Vols don't make adjustments in the front seven, the game could turn out to be similar to the six before it -- Alabama will run the ball and cruise to an early victory.
"If we don't line up and play our techniques right, shed off blocks and make plays, we're going to get gashed," he said.
If the Vols do stuff the box and stop the run, that's fine with McCarron, too. He'll take whatever Tennessee offers.
"Some teams are going to play the run a little bit more, some teams are going to play the pass," McCarron said. "We’ve just got to take what they give us. Coach [Jim McElwain] always had a great saying that always sticks with me and I always remind the guys on offense, 'Take what the defense gives you and eventually they’ll give you the game.' "
Saban said he starting wide receiver Christion Jones participated fully in practice and looks to be progressing well. He was listed as day-to-day and seems likely to play on Saturday. ... As far as the reports of McCarron tearing his meniscus, Saban called them "totally, ridiculously untrue" and said that McCarron has taken every rep at practice this week.