TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WCBI/UA Athletics) –
– The Alabama defense forced four turnovers, including two that led to ensuing touchdowns, as the top-ranked Crimson Tide (2-0) cruised to a 35-0 victory over Western Kentucky (1-1) Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama’s offense overcame a Hilltoppers defense that was stacked to stifle the Crimson Tide rushing game as quarterback AJ McCarron threw four touchdown passes in an efficient performance.
Two of Alabama’s scoring drives needed to cover just 33 and 12 yards after the Tide defense forced WKU turnovers. While Western Kentucky limited the Alabama offense to 103 rushing yards, the Crimson Tide defense produced another dominant performance by holding the explosive Hilltoppers to 224 total yards while garnering Alabama’s fourth shutout over the last two seasons. McCarron passed for 219 yards to lead the Tide offense, completing 14 of 19 passes, including three for 92 yards to Kevin Norwood.
Norwood and Christion Jones became the first Alabama tandem since 1950 to post at least two touchdown catches in the same game. Linebacker C.J. Mosley led the Tide defense with 11 tackles, including one quarterback sack, while linebackers Nico Johnson and Adrian Hubbard forced fumbles.
“They played us like I thought they would,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. “Run the ball, shrink the game, complete a lot of short passes, and pressure like crazy on defense to try to give you negative plays. And every time they gave us a negative play, we didn’t overcome it very well. When we executed properly, I thought we did a pretty good job, put some good drives together and made some big plays, but that is something that we definitely need to get corrected.”
The game began with a fast start by Alabama as the Crimson Tide took the opening kickoff and marched 72 yards in four plays to a touchdown on a 14-yard pass from McCarron to Jones with 13:07 left in the opening quarter. Jeremy Shelley’s conversion kick gave Alabama a 7-0 lead.
Alabama extended the lead to 14-0 midway through the first quarter on a 33-yard pass from McCarron to Norwood, just one play after a hit by linebacker Adrian Hubbard forced a WKU fumble that Brandon Ivory recovered at the Hilltoppers’ 33-yard line.
The Hilltoppers put together their most serious scoring threat of the game in the second quarter, reaching the Tide 19. On a third down play from there, WKU quarterback Kawaun Jakes was sacked for a loss of six yards by Xzavier Dickson and fumbled. Alabama’s Vinnie Sunseri recovered at the 25-yard line and returned it seven yards to set up the Tide at the Alabama 32. From there, Alabama mounted a 68-yard touchdown drive in seven plays. McCarron completed all four of his passes for 62 yards in the drive that was capped by a 22-yard strike to Jones for a 21-0 Alabama lead with 6:53 remaining in the second quarter.
Alabama started the second half by capitalizing on another turnover to extend its lead. After taking the kickoff to start the second half, Tide defensive back Deion Belue intercepted a Jakes pass at the WKU 40 and returned it 15 yards to the Hilltoppers’ 25-yard line. Belue was the victim of a facemask on the return and that infraction moved the ball to the WKU 12. After an incomplete pass, McCarron connected on a 12-yard scoring pass to Norwood for a 28-0 lead with 13:15 left in the third quarter.
Alabama salted away the game with a dominant drive in the closing minutes of the fourth period, moving 81 yards in 12 plays on a march that consumed six minutes, 23 seconds of game time. The drive was kept alive by an 18-yard run by punter Cody Mandell after he dropped the snap from center in punt formation on fourth down to reach the WKU 45. Three plays later, Kenyon Drake took a handoff and raced 32 yards around left end for the game’s final touchdown and a 35-0 margin for Alabama.