Alabama shuts out Western Kentucky, 35-0
From the opening kickoff the final whistle, the Alabama Crimson Tide’s home opener was rarely in question. Alabama scored a touchdown less than two minutes into the game against Western Kentucky and went on to put away the Hilltoppers by a final score of 35-0.
What started quickly for the Crimson Tide turned into a struggle as the Hilltoppers stood strong against the Tide on defense and did not allow Alabama to run away with the game. Junior quarterback AJ McCarron was sacked twice during the first quarter and a total of three times during the game as the Western Kentucky pass rush stifled the Alabama attack on numerous occasions.
With the ground game struggling for much of the day, Alabama was most effective through the air. Four of Alabama’s touchdowns came on passing plays from AJ McCarron, who finished the game 14-of-19 for 219 yards and four touchdowns on the day.
Alabama opened the game with the ball and used a four-play, 72-yard drive to score its first touchdown of the day. McCarron hit sophomore wide receiver Christion Jones from 14 yards out for the touchdown, Jones’ first of the season.
A little less than eight minutes later, the Tide found the end zone again. After linebacker Adrian Hubbard forced a fumble that was recovered by Brandon Ivory, the Tide started in prime territory from the Hilltoppers’ 33-yard line. On the first play of the drive, McCarron took the snap, dropped back and found junior wide receiver Kevin Norwood for the touchdown.
“It started with Coach Nussmeier. We went three wide and he had seen that there were man on us, so he made Christion [Jones] go over and I was one on one with the safety,” Norwood said. “AJ took it from there.”
The Tide and Hilltoppers exchanged possessions for much of the second quarter, each team unable to capitalize on the other’s mistakes and find the end zone. Western Kentucky quarterback Kawaun Jakes, who was under constant pressure the entire game, struggled to get his team in striking distance while the game was well within reach.
After a Western Kentucky drive stalled during the second quarter, the Tide marched 68 yards down the field in seven plays. McCarron found Christion Jones fading towards the corner of the end zone. Jones got his hands on the ball, bobbled it and finally hauled it in for the score. Alabama took a 21-0 lead into halftime.
“Christion Jones is a great route runner. He has great hands, too. He was working hard this summer,” fellow receiver Kevin Norwood said. “He knew that he had to step up and make plays for us at the same time.”
After halftime, the Tide stopped Western Kentucky, forced a turnover and quickly got the ball back and went to work in a similar manner to its first drive of the first half. On the second play of the drive, McCarron found Norwood in the back of the end zone for his second score of the day, and McCarron’s fourth touchdown toss.
“I thought Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones and the receivers made some big plays today,” head coach Nick Saban said following the win.
The score remained 28-0 for much of the second half as the Tide struggled to piece together consistent, sustained drives to pressure the Western Kentucky defense and put more points on the board. With just under two minutes left in the game, true freshman running back Kenyan Drake broke free and scampered in from 32-yards out to give the Tide its first rushing touchdown of the day and improve the Alabama lead to 35-0.
“We didn’t give up big plays, which is really important,” Saban said. “I was pleased with being able to get a shutout. I think the turnovers were huge in that.”
The Crimson Tide managed to force the Hilltoppers to turn the ball over four times during the game, three times by way of a fumble and once with an interception. The Tide scored on all three ensuing drives following the Western Kentucky fumbles.
“Every day in practice, first thing we do when we have a defense meeting is put up who caused turnovers, who forced fumbles, who got interceptions each day so that we positively reinforce every guy that is doing it,” Saban said. “I think we are more conscious of what we are trying to get done. Last year as good as we were on defense, we didn’t cause many fumbles; but it was a pretty good trade-off for as well as they played. This year, I think if we can be a really good turnover team and have a great turnover ratio. That would probably be very beneficial to us.”
Two major players on the Alabama defense did not see the field during the game. Senior nose guard Jesse Williams (mild concussion) and junior cornerback Dee Milliner were held out of action against the Hilltoppers.
“We fully expected Jesse and Dee Milliner to be able to play today. We weren’t trying to hide anything, ” Saban said. “Dee actually strained a hip flexor on Wednesday in practice or something. Actually practiced some on Thursday. Went out in pre game and didn’t feel 100 percent. Could he have played? He said he could play if we had needed him to play. I just didn’t want to take the chance of setting him back.
“Jesse practice Thursday, practiced Wedneday. We thought he was going to be able to play. His concussion scores are normal. We never had an issue with them. He woke up today and had a bad headache, so he said he could play if he needed to. Doc said if you don’t need him to play don’t play him.”
Jalston Fowler left the game late in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a knee injury. He was carted off the field and appeared to be in a great deal of pain.
“Jalston Fowler did injure his knee. We don’t know the extent of that. They’ll do an MRI of that and we’ll let you know when that happens down the road,” Saban said.”
Sights set on Arkansas:
Head coach Nick Saban has a 24-hour rule when it comes to celebrating a victory, but the stage is set for next week’s showdown in Fayetteville against Arkansas. The game will be the Tide’s Southeastern Conference opener and a good measuring stick of what the the 2012 version of Nick Saban’s team can accomplish.
“We definitely have to take it up another notch. We can’t play that way down there at Arkansas,” wide recevier Kevin Norwood said. “The one thing we have got to do is go back there and make corrections and make sure we get our timing right with the quarterback and just look at film and see what Arkansas does.”
“We just try to get better. We’ve got to have a better week of practice than we did the first two weeks,” linebacker Nico Johnson added. “We have just got to keep moving forward.”
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