Alabama scores on 7 of first 8 possessions
By MICHAEL CASAGRANDE
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For two weeks, Alabama was missing style points from early-season wins.
Both counted. Neither was pretty.
The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide scored on seven of its first eight possessions on a soggy day as it pounded out-manned North Texas 53-7 on Saturday. Timing was opportune coming a week before opening the Southeastern Conference season with Arkansas.
Having such a complete victory reassured Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“I feel like until today, I wondered: Was this team really going to fulfill its full potential?” Saban said. “Are they going to be responsible for their potential? I just wasn’t pleased with the lack of consistency we played with in the first two games. We played really well at times, and at other times, we didn’t, but I feel like we were much more solid today and we made some improvement. I know we have much bigger challenges coming up; the competition is going to get better.”
Early success allowed the Tide (3-0) to test its bench as the substitutions began as early as the second quarter with Alabama ahead 27-0.
Another efficient day for quarterback Greg McElroy, matched with the pack of running backs, took away any hope of a monster upset. McElroy completed his first seven passes and finished 13-for-15 to tie the school record at 86.7 percent.
Just as in the Week 2 win over Florida International, the first-year starter spread the ball around with star receiver Julio Jones staying on the sideline with a bruised knee. The sophomore was dressed and warmed up, but his services weren’t necessary.
With help from backup Star Jackson, 11 players in crimson jerseys caught passes Saturday afternoon. The Tide was led by Marquis Maze’s four receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown.
The continued development of McElroy began two weeks ago in the second half of the Virginia Tech game. Since completing 6-of-18 passes in the first half against the Hokies, McElroy has been successful on 42-of-51 throws or 82.3 percent of the time.
McElroy and Jackson combined for 263 passing yards while the stable of Tide running backs came three yards from equaling their total with 260 rushing yards. Mark Ingram returned to full speed after dealing with the flu a week ago to run eight times for 91 yards and catch three passes for 38 yards.
The barrel-chested back routinely powered through sloppy tackling, as did freshman Trent Richardson who picked up 88 rushing yards on 11 carries. He could have had even more if a North Texas defender didn’t clip his heal with nothing but turf ahead of him in the second quarter. Richardson staggered as he tried to keep his balance before losing the battle with gravity after 38 yards.
“I was just laughing,” Ingram said. “Terry Grant and Roy (Upchurch) were the ones really laughing at him for real.”
Alabama’s defense continued to devastate offensive lines Saturday along with any hopes of North Texas’ rushing game.
The Mean Green (1-2) mustered 63 rushing yards, mostly on the backups. At halftime, the starters had just 12 yards on 10 carries for a 1.2 yard average — an improvement on the 1.1 averaged by Virginia Tech and Florida International.
North Texas did manage to avoid allowing a sack to an Alabama defense that combined for five apiece in the first two games. A conservative, short passing attack kept backup quarterback Nathan Tune from taking sacks, but that wasn’t necessarily Alabama’s objective. The front line affected his timing and limited the big plays.
Only a third-quarter touchdown kept Alabama from posting a shutout. The scoring drive accounted for 78 of the 187 total yards North Texas gained.
Backup Mike linebacker Chris Jordan’s six tackles led the way for Alabama followed by Terrence Cody’s five that included one of four tackles for loss.