TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For the second straight game, Vanderbilt stuck with a ranked SEC team on the road for the first 29 minutes.
That last 60 seconds of the opening half, however, opened the door to defeat. Again.
Vanderbilt gave up a devastating touchdown with 21 seconds left before halftime and never recovered in a 34-0 loss to No. 2 Alabama on Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd of 101,821 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Quarterback AJ McCarron’s 5-yard touchdown pass to DeAndrew White sent the Crimson Tide into intermission with a 14-0 advantage. Similarly, and two weeks earlier, South Carolina scored on a 52-yard screen pass and went up by 11 points at the half in a game that ended in a 21-3 Commodores' loss.
“It is just a play,” Commodores coach James Franklin said. “It didn’t hurt our momentum. It just happened. We are going to have fight through and persevere through all kinds of situations. We want to try to eliminate giving those plays up. We just have to bounce back and be resilient.”
Vanderbilt was not against the Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 SEC), who improved to 21-0 against Vanderbilt since 1984. Their suffocating defense, which ranks first in the country, clamped down and the offense warmed up.
The Commodores (3-2, 1-2) gained just 48 of their 190 total yards after halftime and failed to score for the first time since a 43-0 shutout against Georgia nearly a year ago.
McCarron threw a career-high four touchdowns, and Alabama’s standout running back Trent Richardson picked up 75 of his 107 rushing yards after halftime.
“You got to give Alabama a lot of credit. They are all they are hyped up to be,” quarterback Jordan Rodgers said. “They’ve got a great defense, are well-coached and really disciplined. We saw that on film and we knew that was going to be a challenge. We showed we could move the ball. We just need to execute a little better.”
Alabama squashed any chance of a Vanderbilt comeback when it marched 94 yards on its opening drive of the third quarter, capped by Richardson' 1-yard touchdown run.
Four of its five scoring drives went at least 77 yards. The Tide also won the time-of-possession battle 36:14 to 23:46.
Vanderbilt, which leads the country with 14 interceptions, failed to force a turnover for the first time this season. It also allowed Alabama to convert 12 of its 17 third downs, including all five touchdowns.
“I thought the defense played well but we got worn down as the game went on because we were on the field too long,” Franklin said. “We didn’t do a great job on [defending] third down [Saturday] and in part because of the offense inconsistency and protecting the ball.”
Rodgers came on in the first quarter for starter Larry Smith late, a fifth-year senior from Prattville, Ala., who has exited all five games early. Against Alabama, he was hit hard on a failed run on third-and-inches. Though he stayed on the sidelines, at times jogging behind the team bench, he did not return. He was 4-of-6 for 45 yards.
“He could have come back into the game if we needed to,” Franklin said. “I felt like we’d give Jordan an opportunity and see what he could do.”
The result was that Rodgers, a junior, got his most extensive playing time yet.
He led the Commodores into Alabama territory on his only two series of the first half. Between Rodgers and Smith, the Commodores had pass plays of 13, 29 and 31 yards — all with yards after the catch.
At halftime, they totaled 142 yards — much better than just 77 against South Carolina.
But they had nothing to show for it as sophomore Carey Spear missed two field goals that Franklin called “momentum-changing plays.” Spear, who entered a perfect 3-for-3 in his first season as Vanderbilt’s kicker, bounced a 47-yard attempt off the crossbar. Then he missed a crucial 38-yarder wide right with 4:11 before that halftime that would have cut Alabama’s lead to four points.
“Kicking is fundamentals and technique and going through the same motion every single day ... no different than swinging a golf club,” Franklin said. “For whatever reason, he didn’t do that [Saturday] but we’ll get right back to it. We believe in him.”
In the second half, Rodgers threw two interceptions and Vanderbilt punted three times. The run game produced just 41 yards overall, and running backs Zac Stacy and Jerron Seymour combined for four yards on eight carries.
“We will get this fixed,” Franklin said. “We will get this fixed through developing our players, working hard, staying positive and sticking to our plan and recruiting. That’s what [Alabama] has done here. ... We lost to a good football team. They have recruited well. They coach them hard. They’ve got a good plan. That’s the secret if anyone knows what the secret is. We have the same plan.”
• Six different VU players left with injuries — Smith, tight end Mason Johnston, defensive ends Johnell Thomas and Tim Fugger, and defensive tackles Rob Lohr and T.J. Greenstone.
Franklin said only one injury concerns him from a long-term standpoint but would not disclose the player. Johnston, however, left early in the second quarter with a lower left leg injury and Vanderbilt officials immediately said he would not return to the game.
• Vanderbilt returns to Nashville for a three-game homestand, which starts next weekend with Georgia (4-2, 3-1).