TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Alabama had mixed a little bit of everything into the season, from fast starts and strong finishes to blown leads and loads of drama.
But Nick Saban's first Crimson Tide team hadn't done this: Fashion a dominant, drama-free victory like Saturday's 41-17 win over rival Tennessee. In fact, it was the first time No. 22 'Bama had managed such an impressive win over a Southeastern Conference power since a 31-3 upset of Florida in 2005.
It vaulted the Tide back into the national rankings heading into an open date and set the stage for a showdown with Saban's former team, No. 3 LSU, in two weeks.
``I wanted to win for our players,'' he said. ``I wanted to win for our fans. I wanted them to see them do what we knew they were capable of.''
That means a passing game that produced big plays along with an effective short game that helped John Parker Wilson and receiver DJ Hall have career games. It meant shutting out the league's top passing team in the second half and withstanding the Volunteers' best rallies.
The win left the Tide - which won just two league games last season - tied with LSU for the SEC Western Division lead and was a welcome relief for a team whose last six games were decided by a combined 22 points. A week earlier, Alabama needed an instant replay reversal negating a late pass to secure a 27-24 win at Mississippi.
``We played good in the beginning against Arkansas and good at the end against Florida State,'' said Wilson, who passed for three touchdowns and a career-high 363 yards. ``We hadn't put 60 minutes together, though.''
The Volunteers (4-3, 2-2), meanwhile, had a three-game winning streak snapped and missed a chance to take control of the SEC East following South Carolina's loss to Vanderbilt. They fell from the rankings after coming in at No. 20 but now get to face the Gamecocks.
Tennessee scored two touchdowns to take a 14-10 lead early in the second quarter, stealing away some of the momentum Alabama gained with a successful onside kick to open the game. Vols coach Phillip Fulmer dismissed any impact from that play.
``That little thing didn't have anything to do with it except it did take a possession away from us,'' Fulmer said.
The outcome had more to do with Wilson and Hall, who had a school-record 13 catches for 185 yards and caught two TD passes and often matched up with Vols freshman defensive back Eric Berry.
``I don't want to say we were picking on him, but we saw he was out of position a lot and we were just trying to take advantage of it,'' Hall said.
Saban said it was a product of a passing game that has gained confidence. Wilson had perhaps his best game of the season against Ole Miss and easily topped that performance by going 32-of-46 with no interceptions against the Vols.
He connected with six receivers for multiple catches. Plus, Terry Grant rushed for 104 yards and Alabama dominated the second half 17-0. The Tide's 510 yards was the most in an SEC game since 2002.
Defensively, freshman Kareem Jackson had two second-half interceptions, including one that ended Tennessee's best scoring threat with the Vols down just 24-17 in the third quarter.
``We had the fewest mental errors that we have had all year long, and I think that is why we executed well,'' Saban said. ``They believe in each other and themselves, and they did what we asked them to do, to play 60 minutes in the game.
``When you challenged somebody to do something and they do it and you see how happy it makes, them, I'm really pleased about that,'' he added.
Linebacker Darren Mustin, a Nashville native, was just glad to have a chance to spend his free weekend at home ``wearing Alabama everything'' and celebrating only the Tide's third win in the past 13 meetings.
Then, attention turns to an even bigger game with LSU that now has high stakes beyond the Tigers fans' desire to beat their former coach.
``LSU's got a great team,'' Mustin said. ``If we can play another complete game, who knows what can happen?''

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