TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Some extra work with the kickoff team paid off for Alabama on Saturday, at least on the stat sheet.
Opponents scored touchdowns on the special teams unit in each of the first two games, and North Texas nearly equaled the feat.
Ira Green broke free on a kickoff return before Crimson Tide tacklers pulled him down at its own 30-yard line. Only a holding call deep in North Texas territory granted the maligned unit a reprieve.
As a whole, the Mean Green averaged 17 yards on the seven kickoffs it fielded including one where the returner caught the ball eight yards deep in the end zone.
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Coach Nick Saban said the discipline, that had been missing, made a return Saturday. He’s heard the negative talk directed at the kickoff team and it doesn’t bother him.
“I don’t really mind getting criticized when I agree with the criticism,” he said. “I mean, we haven’t covered kicks well.”
Alabama was close to perfect in the first half.
Only one drive failed to produce points — the first one. Greg McElroy fumbled on the first play of the game when the quarterback was hit from behind just before throwing. Nearly everyone on the field stopped thinking the loose ball was nothing but an incomplete pass.
Whistles, however, never blew and the referee threw the white bean bag to signify the fumble. North Texas fell on the bouncing football. The play was reviewed and the fumble was confirmed.
Alabama’s defense responded with a quick three-and-out, giving the ball back to the offense that scored on each of the next seven drives.
The reigning SEC Freshman of the Week turned in another big performance in his second shot at significant playing time.
Running back Trent Richardson was the first off the bench, and he made the most of it. His 88 yards on 11 carries was second on the team behind Mark Ingram’s 91.
McCoy starts fast again
A week after catching five passes for 100 yards in the first two quarters against Florida International, Tide receiver Mike McCoy turned in another big first half against another Sun Belt Conference team.
All three of his catches and 38 yards came on the first full drive of the game as starters began coming out in the second quarter.
The Wildcat formation did not make an appearance for the Alabama offense Saturday.
It debuted against Virginia Tech as the Tide ran nine plays out of the formation that mixes the spread with principles from the old Wing-T.
Against Florida International, Roy Upchurch took the only snap at quarterback and ran 7 yards.
Jones, Upchurch sit
Upchurch wore a sweat suit instead of a uniform as he missed his first game of the season with a high ankle sprain suffered a week earlier.
Julio Jones was also kept off the field with his bruised knee although he did suit up and warm up before the game.
Saban said there is a better chance to see Jones playing next Saturday when Arkansas comes to Bryant-Denny Stadium to open SEC play.
Rush average rises
The gaudy Alabama rush defense didn’t see its average allowance rise much Saturday.
The Mean Green bumped the average yardage per play from 1.1 to 1.5 with 61 yards on 26 attempts. Florida International only managed 1 net rushing yard a week earlier.
Brandon Deaderick didn’t start against North Texas. He did, however, make an impact.
Close to three weeks after being shot in the arm in an attempted robbery, the senior defensive end came off the bench on the second possession and made a quick tackle. He finished with four total tackles a week after missing the Florida International game because of missing too many practices while at his grandmother’s funeral.
Marcell Dareus, although listed behind Deaderick on the depth chart, got the start at defensive end. He made one tackle.
Tiffin misses 2 PATs
Typically reliable place-kicker Leigh Tiffin missed a two extra points, doubling his career total in one game.
Tiffin did add two field goals to Tide’s effort.
The day wasn’t a total wash for Tiffin.
He did move past his father Van Tiffin for third on the all-time field goal list. A 35-yarder on the final play of the first half was the 60th of his career and a 20-yarder in the third game him 61.
Phillip Doyle (1987-90) still holds the school record with 78 successful kicks.
Alabama’s All-American kick returner came close to breaking free for scores Saturday.
Arenas returned four punts for 90 yards with a long of 36 and one kickoff for 36 yards.