With all due respect, Western Kentucky was no more than a little bit pesky as Alabama opened its 2012 home season with a 35-0 victory over the Hilltoppers in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. The number one-ranked Crimson Tide had moments of excellence, but all-in-all was just good enough often enough to have a comfortable outing.
Alabama scored on its first possession and was never threatened by Western Kentucky as the Crimson Tide improved to 2-0 and the Hilltoppers fell to 1-1.
Alabama opens Southeastern Conference play next Saturday when the Crimson Tide goes to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks. CBS will televise the game beginning at 2:30 p.m. CDT.
Alabama was alternately outstanding and seemingly out of sync, but the Crimson Tide managed to score five touchdowns – four on A.J. McCarron passes, two each to Christion Jones and to Kevin Norwood. True freshman tailback Kenyan Drake scored on a 32-yard dash as back-ups finished the game.
Alabama’s defense forced four turnovers – three fumbles and an interception – and three of those led to Crimson Tide touchdowns. Bama did not have a turnover.
McCarron completed 14 of 19 passes for 219 yards.
Bama didn’t get much done in the running game, and in part because McCarron was sacked six times had barely 100 yards rushing. Starter Eddie Lacy was the leading rusher, but with only 36 yards on nine carries. True freshman T.J. Yeldon, who had over 100 yards in his debut last week, had only six runs for 25 yards, but also caught four passes for 47 yards.
Norwood had three catches for 92 yards and Christion Jones three for 47.
Alabama had the advantage statistically, but not dramatically. The Tide had 17 first downs to 14 by the Hilltoppers. Alabama had 31 rushes for 103 yards (including one 18-yarder by punter Cody Mandell, who had to run after dropping the snap), Western Kentucky 28 for 46. WKU quarterback Kawaun Jakes completed 20-31 passes for 178 yards and suffered one interception.
Total offense for Alabama was 51 plays for 328 yards, and for the Hilltoppers 59 plays for 224 yards.
Alabama had one penalty for 10 yards and Western Kentucky only 5-33.
Mandell punted five times for an average of 44.8 yards with a long of 48, two downed inside the 20, and only one touchback.
Alabama took only 1:53 to go 72 yards in four plays for the opening score. Lacy opened the game with an 18-yard run, followed by a McCarron pass to Norwood for 47 yards. After Lacy was caught for a loss, McCarron hooked up with Christion Jones on a 14-yard touchdown pass. Jeremy Shelley kicked the Tide to a quick 7-0 lead, the first of Shelley’s five PAT kicks. (Neither team attempted a field goal.)
The touchdown was the quickest score for the Crimson Tide to start a game since a Darius Hanks touchdown grab at Duke on Sept. 18, 2010, just 1:19 in the game. The quickest score last season came on a Michael Williams touchdown, 3:05 into the game against Arkansas.
Alabama could barely move on its next possession, but following that the defense came up with the first of its big plays. Linebacker Adrian Hubbard caused a fumble by Hilltoppers running back Antonio Andrews and Tide nose tackle Brandon Ivory collected it at the Western Kentucky 33.
The next score took only seven seconds. McCarron found Norwood in the end zone on the 33-yard touchdown for Bama’s 14-0 first quarter lead.
The only score of the second quarter also came following an Alabama fumble recovery, but it took a little more work. Western Kentucky had driven to the Bama 19, but linebacker Xzavier Dickson put a halt to the threat when he ran down the Hilltoppers quarterback, Kawaun Jakes, and the ball was recovered by safety Vinnie Sunseri and returned to the Bama 32.
After Yeldon had two runs for a first down, McCarron had back-to-back passes of 15 yards each to DeAndrew White and to Yeldon. Yeldon lost five yards, then caught a pass for 10 yards. On third-and-five from the Western Kentucky 22, McCarron hit Christion Jones in the end zone. Jones bobbled the ball as he approached out of bounds, but was ruled to have possession for the touchdown, making it Alabama 21, Western Kentucky 0 at halftime.
The defense set the Tide up for a quick touchdown in the third quarter. WKU was at its own 40 when Jakes was flushed from the pocket by defensive end Damion Square. The Hilltoppers quarterback lofted a dying duck that was picked off by Bama cornerback Deion Belue and returned to the 24. A facemask penalty on the tackle moved the ball to the WKU 12. On second down, McCarron hit Norwood for the touchdown and a 28-0 lead.
(The facemask penalty on WKU was the first penalty of the game.)
There were interesting aspects, not all of them good, to Bama’s final touchdown drive.
The first offense stayed in the game as Bama started from its 19 with just over eight minutes to play. McCarron was sacked twice, and on one of those sacks tailback Jalston Fowler suffered an apparent knee injury. The Tide was in punt formation, fourth and 18, at its 36 when Mandell dropped the snap. He scooped up the ball and ran for the first down marker and made it by inches to keep Alabama in possession.
That did it for the first offense, though. Blake Sims took over at wildcat quarterback and completed a six-yard pass for a first down pass to Dee Hart. Hart was replaced at tailback by true freshman Kenyan Drake, who took an handoff and sped around left end, accelerating for the 32-yard score that came with 1:47 to play.