A.J. McCarron was the starting quarterback for Alabama. The question of opening day had been whether…
Alabama, Saban Could Not Help It
For starters, Alabama Coach Nick Saban played for Kent State and is a graduate of that Ohio university. For another, Kent State players spent time in Tuscaloosa this summer helping in recovery efforts following the April 27 tornado.
But some things can't be helped. There's a reason Kent State had a new head coach this year. And while Bama had some concerns about not knowing what to expect from the Golden Flashes because of new coaches and coordinators from last year, it went about as expected in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday.
Alabama looked like a team that has the players capable of contending for the national championship. Kent State had breakdowns in every phase of the game before making a first down.
Alabama finished off the Golden Flashes, 48-7, to open the 2011 season.
It was Alabama's second consecutive game against teams Saban had a connection to. Saban's first head coaching job was at Michigan State. In the final game of the 2010 season, Bama defeated Michigan State, 49-7, at the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
Alabama's domination of Kent State was complete. Even with second and third team players seeing plenty of action, Bama's 72 plays netted 482 yards and the Golden Flashes had 70 plays for 90 yards.
Kent finished with negative rushing yardage -- 23 carries for minus 9 yards -- as the Tide defense had four sacks for 31 yards in losses and three other tackles for losses of 23 yards.
Alabama had 24 first downs to six for Kent State. Bama had 35 rushes for 183 yards and quarterbacks completed 21 of 37 passes for 199 yards. Kent State quarterback Keith Spencer completed 20 of 47 passes for 99 yards, a long pass of only 13 yards. He had one touchdown and one interception.
Alabama was 6-6 in Red Zone scores.
A negative for the Tide was giving up four interceptions. Another was not causing one fumble, which had reportedly been a point of emphasis for the defense in spring practice and fall camp.
Third tailback Jalston Fowler came in for a few late carries and finished as the game's leading rusher with four carries for 69 yards and a touchdown (on a 49-yard run). Trent Richardson scored three rushing touchdowns on his 13 carries for 37 yards. Eddie Lacy had eight carries for 58 yards and a touchdown.
A.J. McCarron completed 14 of 23 passes for 226 yards and one touchdown. Phillip Sims completed 7-14 for 7 yards and no touchdowns. Both were intercepted twice.
Marquis Maze led Tide receivers with eight catches for 118 yards and one touchdown.
Alabama's leading tacklers against Kent State were true freshman linebacker Trey DePriest with 10 tackles (3 solos), linebacker Courtney Upshaw with seven (4 solos), including 1.5 tackles for loss and half of a quarterback sack; linebacker Dont'a Hightower with 7 tackles, half of a tackle for loss and half of a quarterback sack; cornerback Dequan Menzie with six tackles (3 solos), 1.5 tackles for loss and half of a quarterback sack; and defensive back/linebacker Vinnie Sunseri with six tackles (3 solos).
With A.J. McCarron opening at quarterback for the Tide, Bama wasted no time in opening up a lead. Marquis Maze returned a punt 27 yards to the Kent State 36 and it took just eight plays and 3:29 until Trent Richardson had his first rushing touchdown of the year. Richardson took it in from the one and Jeremy Shelley kicked the extra point for Alabama's 7-0 lead with 10:22 remaining in the first quarter. McCarron had three completions in as many tries -- two to DeAndrew White for 18 total yards and one to Maze for nine yards.
Less than two and a half minutes later McCarron completed a 24-yard post pattern pass to Maze for a 14-0 lead. The big play in the four-down, 74-yard march was a screen pass to back-up tailback Eddie Lacy for 48 yards.
Maze had several nice punt returns, including a 15-yard scamper to set Bama up at Kent State's 34 with 1:24 remaining in the first quarter. Phillip Sims took over at quarterback, as had been arranged in the three-series plan. and took just 58 seconds to make it 21-0. Lacy ran for 20 yards, Sims hit White for 10, and after a formation penalty, Richardson ran it over left tackle for a nine-yard touchdown.
Alabama wasted a nice opportunity from inside the Kent State 20 in the final minutes of the first half. When the march bogged down, the Tide had to settle for a 36-yard Shelley field goal and a 24-0 lead.
Cade Foster's 53-yard field goal effort on the final play of the first half was wide right.
Alabama lost its shutout following a Sims interception. He was picked off by Norman Wolfe at the Kent 40 and returned 37 yards to the Crimson Tide 3. Two plays later Spencer Keith completed a touchdown pass to tight end Justin Thompson for the touchdown. Freddy Cortez kicked the extra point to close the gap to 24-7.
The first down play following the interception was the first of the game for Kent State in Alabama territory. Ironically, the next time Kent State was in Alabama territory was when a McCarron pass went off the hands of tight end Michael Williams and was intercepted by Leon Green for the Golden Flashes.
Richardson got his third touchdown of the day with 5:16 remaining in the third quarter to make it 31-7. The eight-play, 76-yard drive was directed by McCarron and included short passes to Lacy, which he turned into a 17-yard gain, and to Richardson for 16 yards to the one. Richardson took it in from the one to complete the drive in 3:57.
The offense had it pretty easy a few minutes later. A bobbled snap by the Kent State punter gave the ball to Bama at the Golden Flashes one-yard line. Lacy took it in to make it 38-7 with 4:03 to play.
Reminiscent of Lacy's late, long touchdown against Michigan State at the end of last season, Jalston Fowler, the third tailback, got the call in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. He ripped off a 14-yard run to the left side, then followed on the next play to the right side and went 49 yards for the touchdown to make it 45-7. The two-play drive took only 48 seconds and came with 13:27 remaining in the game.
Alabama goes on the road next week to face the Penn State Nittany Lions. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT with national television coverage by ABC.
The Crimson Tide returns to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 17 to host North Texas.
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