- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Saturday's game at Bryant-Denny Stadium was a dud. It seemed like who was watching was of greater concern than what they were actually watching at times. In the end, Alabama walloped Tennessee 45-10 for the school's 50th all-time win over its SEC East rival.
But the greater context of the game was more significant. Tennessee, for better or worse, served as a piñata for both No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon this season, offering a rare common opponent to examine. When you consider the fact that no other top-five team has faced a common opponent with Alabama, the Tennessee games grow more interesting.
So who looked better against Butch Jones' Volunteers? Well, the answer to that question is tricky. The scores -- Alabama won by 35 points and Oregon won by 45 -- are misleading. The Ducks jumped to a 38-0 halftime lead and continued their manic pace on offense, scoring three third-quarter touchdowns. The Tide, too, got out to a big 35-0 halftime lead, but instead cruised in the third and fourth quarters, scoring one touchdown and a field goal.
Oregon ran 67 plays on offense to Alabama's 65, and the Ducks were more efficient. Marcus Mariota threw for 456 yards and four touchdowns and helped generate 687 total yards of offense. AJ McCarron, meanwhile, threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns. All told, the Tide put up a respectable 479 yards of offense. But in fairness, the difference in first-half offense -- Oregon put up 350 yards to Alabama's 292 -- was not as noticeable.
The teams' third- and fourth-down efficiency numbers were nearly identical. Alabama converted on 7 of 11 third downs and moved the chains on its lone fourth-down attempt. Oregon, conversely, was 6 of 13 on third downs and picked up a first down on its only fourth-down attempt.
Both teams ran for an average of roughly 5 yards per carry and both forced a turnover on defense.
The defenses offered little separation, though. Oregon gave up a touchdown to Tennessee in the first quarter and the Vols held the ball for 34:18. Alabama, meanwhile, didn't give up points until a third-quarter field goal and the Vols didn't score a touchdown until early in the fourth quarter when the game was well in hand. Tennessee generated about the same offensive output against Alabama as it did against Oregon -- 322 yards to 316.
Truthfully, if you're looking for who the better team is -- Alabama or Oregon -- based on their common opponent, Tennessee, you're looking too hard. Both Alabama and Oregon beat up on Tennessee badly and both looked like title contenders in the process. Alabama's traditional pro-style offense, largely viewed as weaker than Oregon's fast-paced attack, held its own by comparison. Meanwhile, Oregon's defense, traditionally thought of as inferior to Alabama's historically dominant defense, was just as good by comparison, too.
If you're an Oregon fan you can focus on the Tide's one turnover against the Vols. An Alabama fan would point out that his team committed only four penalties and didn't allow a single sack while Oregon committed twice as many penalties and allowed twice as many sacks.
But leave the film study to the coaches if the two teams do wind up meeting in Pasadena for the BCS National Championship in January. We've got a long way to go until then.