John Parker Wilson had big night
Well, it was a bowl-like atmosphere. And when it comes to bowls, it’s probably going to be Alabama over Clemson. Actually, it wasn’t a bowl game. It was a special event opening game, and it was really special for the Crimson Tide. Alabama rolled to a convincing 34-10 victory over Clemson in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta Saturday night.
Alabama returns to action next Saturday against Tulane at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. It will be the season-opener for Tulane, which is continuing preparations at Samford University in Birmingham. Tulane’s hometown, New Orleans, is preparing for a potentially devestating pounding from Hurricane Gustav.
Alabama was ranked 24th in the nation going into the game. Clemson, the favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship this year, was ranked ninth in the pre-season. Alabama has now won 12 consecutive games in the infrequently played series and leads 12-3. All Clemson victories came prior to 1910.
It was a true team effort, with offense, defense and special teams all contributing. But it seemed a particularly good night for the offense, and, specifically, for senior quarterback John Parker Wilson. Working under his third position coach and offensive coordinator in as many years, Jim McElwain, Wilson seemed more poised and more polished than at any time in his career.
Wilson completed 22 of 30 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a touchdown. He was not sacked. In fact, Alabama didn’t have a negative play until late in the fourth quarter and had only two for the game.
Freshman Mark Ingram had 17 rushes for 96 yards and Glen Coffee 17 runs for 90 yards.
Tight end Nick Walker was the leading receiver with seven catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. Freshman wide receiver Julio Jones, who had four catches for 28 yards, had a touchdown reception.
Leigh Tiffin kicked four field goals, including a career best of 54 yards that got Alabama out to a 3-0 lead on the Tide’s first possession.
Prior to the game, much was made of Clemson’s considerable offensive weapons, notably what has been called the best one-two running punch in college football, C.J. Spiller and James Davis. Between them they netted 20 yards on eight rushes. Alabama’s defense so throttled the Clemson offense that the Tigers finished with a total of 14 rushes for zero yards.
Clemson’s fine quarterback, Cullen Harper, completed 20 of 34 passes for 188 yards, but he didn’t have a touchdown, he was intercepted once, and he was sacked three times.
Bama had a decent first drive except for some costly penalties, one that wiped out a long pass completion from John Parker Wilson to Marquis Maze. The longest play in the 10-play drive was a nine-yard pass from Wilson to tailback Glen Coffee just before the first Tiffin field goal. The biggest roar for a play was Julio Jones’ first Bama pass reception, an eight-yard gain.
Alabama linebacker Cory Reamer forced a fumble on Clemson’s first possession and freshman linebacker Don’ta Hightower recovered it for the Tide at Clemson’s 31. Bama couldn’t get a touchdown, and Tiffin kicked a 21-yard field goal to make it 6-0.
Alabama started in Clemson territory again after the Tigers were unable to move on their second possession. Wilson completed a nine-yard pass to Mike McCoy to get the drive started, then turned it over to the tailbacks. Freshman Mark Ingram had runs of 4, 12 and 9, and then Glen Coffee carried for 6 and 4 to the Clemson one. Wilson took it in from a yard back. After Tiffin’s kick, it was 13-0.
Clemson cut into the lead with a second quarter drive that pulled out all the offensive trickery stops. Clemson had particular success with some end-around type plays and got a 47-yard gain on a Cullen Harper pass to Jacoby Ford. But when Brandon Deaderick sacked Harper, Clemson had to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Mark Buchholz. The score pulled Clemson to within 13-3.
Alabama’s new offensive coordinator, Jim McElwain, came with a reputation of wanting the tight end to be an offensive weapon. Alabama moved out to a 20-3 lead in great part because of passing success to the tight end. Starting at its own 17 yard line, Bama moved 83 yards in 14 plays, a drive that consumed 8:16. Wilson completed five passes in the drive--four to tight end Nick Walker for 36 yards and one to Travis McCall for eight yards. The touchdown came on a four-yard pass to Walker. Ingram had four runs for 20 yards in the drive.
And it didn’t hurt that Clemson twice was flagged for pass interference, including once when it looked as if Bama would have its first punt of the game. (Alabama did not punt in the first half.)
Clemson had another poor offensive series and a poor punt set Alabama up at the Clemson 39. Bama was unable to move, however, and Tiffin’s 52-yard field goal effort was just wide.
Alabama got a final second quarter opportunity when Rolando McClain tipped a Clemson pass that was picked off by Marquis Johnson and returned to the Alabama 35. With 1:39 to go in the first half, Wilson got Bama deep into Clemson territory and on the final play before intermission, Tiffin nailed a 34-yard field goal to make it Alabama 23, Clemson 3. The biggest play in the drive was a Wilson scramble for 15 yards to the Tigers’ 32.
It didn’t take Clemson long to cut into the lead. C.J. Spiller is one of the nation’s great running backs, and also a terrific kickoff return man. He turned in his third career kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half, going 96 yards to cut the Alabama lead to 23-10.
Alabama finally got the touchdown back. And more. Julio Jones made his first touchdown when he took a three-yard pass from Wilson to make it 29-10. Rather than kicking the extra point, Alabama went for two points and Ingram ran it in for a 31-10 lead. Alabama had driven 67 yards in plays, taking 6:52. Wilson converted four times on third down in the drive, passes to Jones, Walker and Ingram for first downs before the third down pass to Jones for the touchdown.
Alabama put the game away with Tiffin’s fourth field goal, a 24-yarder with 3:39 to play. It was Alabama 34, Clemson 10. Any faint hopes Clemson harbored were dashed on the drive, which took 14 plays and 78 yards and wiped away nearly nine minutes of playing time. Wilson’s last big play on the drive was a third down 24-yard pass to Mike McCoy. Ingram had a 28-yard run to get the drive started.