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September 5, 2010

Upon Further Review: San Jose State at Alabama

There's just no way to call the University of Alabama's game against San Jose State on Saturday night anything but a mismatch.

The Crimson Tide dominated in every facet except one, turnovers, as each side had one in the 48-3 victory.

It's a little strange, then, that both teams left Bryant-Denny Stadium feeling pretty good about themselves.

"I spent the last couple of nights trying to mentally prepare myself the best I could," said San Jose State freshman linebacker Vince Buhagiar, who had never been close to playing before 101,821 fans before. "I came out here tonight expecting it to be extremely fast and expecting not to be able to hear myself think because of the volume. For the most part I was right about all that. It was a lot faster and the crowd was really loud but it wasn't unbearable. By the end of the night it was like, 'Okay, I can do this.'"

Granted, it'll be louder next week when Alabama hosts Penn State, but while the Crimson Tide ran all over the Spartans even without Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram it also demonstrated that its passing game can be equally as potent, finishing with 334 yards.

As expected, Alabama has a lot of weapons with some big, talented blockers.

"(Trent) Richardson is excellent," San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre said. "Number six (Demetrius Goode) looked pretty good too. He seemed very, very powerful. He almost reminded me of Richardson, just in a different number. They kind of have the same body build.

"I was impressed with their runners. Their big tight ends hurt us a few times. They overwhelmed us on the edge there. They had a few runs off the edge when we were right there and they just knocked us off."

Play of the game: If junior Julio Jones says his leaping one-handed 29-yard touchdown was the best catch he's ever made in a game, that good enough for us.

Player of the game: The offensive line and tight ends can split this one up. Despite three new starters between them the Crimson Tide tallied 257 rushing yards and they weren't at fault on the lone sack. Senior quarterback Greg McElroy got tagged pretty hard one other time on a poor blitz pickup. Alabama's string of quarters without an offensive lineman being called for holding reached 42.

Statistic of the game: Even though Alabama had nine new defensive starters almost half of San Jose State's offensive yards came on two plays (49 and 32). Subtract them and the Spartans averaged 2.04 yards per play with the longest gain just nine yards.

Hit of the game: Third place goes to Will Lowery for the hit he made on special teams. Runner-up was sophomore defensive end Undra Billingsley for absolutely flattening his man on the kick return Lowery was called for a block to the back. The top hit, though, was the bone-crunching hit junior linebacker Chris Jordan made on a draw play, with junior safety Mark Barron assisting.

Did you notice? On Jones' 13-yard end run Alabama lined up D.J. Fluker on the left side between James Carpenter and Chance Warmack. Also, on the first of the two wildcat plays Brian Motley lined up at tight end. He was later used in short-yardage situations as well.

Here are 10 other noteworthy things from Saturday's game.

Explosive plays: Coach Nick Saban defines a big gain as a run of 16 yards or more or a pass of 21 yards or more, and an explosive play a run of 13 yards or more or a pass of 17 yards or more. Alabama had 14 explosive plays (eight passing, six running) and seven big gains (five and two). That's more explosive plays than any game over the past two seasons, but tied for the third-most big plays (nine last season against Virginia Tech and eight the previous year vs. Western Kentucky). Jones had the most explosive plays, four, while Lacy had three. As noted before, the defense gave up two big plays.

Who played? Nearly everyone listed on the depth chart released Monday got into the game with a few notable exceptions. Obviously, Ingram (knee), junior defensive end Marcell Dareus (suspension) and redshirt freshman defensive end Brandon Moore (suspension) didn't suit up. Redshirt freshman linebacker Tana Patrick and junior defensive lineman Brandon Lewis weren't on the depth chart but played. True freshman Corey Grant, Phillip Sims and Arie Kouandijo didn't play as coaches hope to redshirt them if possible. Alabama had 10 players starting their first games not including five new faces filling special-teams roles. Some 47 players got in during the first quarter alone and 63 overall. By our count 18 freshmen (either redshirt or true) played, but only one started, Fluker. Both junior-college transfers from last year's signing class played, junior cornerback DeQuan Menzie and Lewis.

McElroy's day: Statisticians mistakenly credited his incompletion over the middle intended for Jones to McCarron, so he was really 13 of 16 (81.25 percent) for 218 yards and one touchdown. When McElroy was in the game the offense accumulated 367 yards on 37 plays with four touchdowns and a field goal during seven possessions. He had two eight-play possessions with the longest in time just 3:22. His other two incompletions were a drop by Jones and junior Marquis Maze landing out of bounds before securing the ball. McElroy completed his only third-down attempt and didn't have any throws in the red zone. His string of passes without an interception is up to 113. Two plays that demonstrated his maturity were when he stepped up and completed passes instead of trying to run. He hit Maze for the 48-yard touchdown and Richardson turned the other into a 19-yard gain. However, McElroy should have thrown the ball away on the sack and on the Jones miss junior Darius Hanks was open near the far sideline.

McCarron's day: After subtracting McElroy's incompletion redshirt freshman A.J. McCarron completed nine of 14 passes (64.29 percent) for 116 yards and one touchdown in his debut. Although Jones' one-handed catch was spectacular, and at the time Alabama quarterbacks had completed 10 of 11 passes, Hanks made an impressive 34-yard reception as well. McCarron was 1-for-2 on third downs and 1-for-3 in the red zone. On McElroy's completions receivers had 110 yards after the catch, many by starters fighting for every inch they could get, compared to just 22 for McCarron's receivers.

The running game: It was the third straight game Alabama had more than 200 rushing yards. Interestingly, the Tide ran only twice behind Carpenter during the first half: Jones' carry out of the wildcat and McElroy taking off for six yards. The first four carries of the second half were all left, for gains of nine, eight and two yards before redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy's 37-yard touchdown. Everything Richardson did was either up the middle or to the right, including his 39-yard touchdown that benefitted from some great blocking. Lacy's one carry left in the first half resulted in his fumble into the end zone, but he later broke two runs to his left en route to a 100-yard rushing performance.

The secondary: The most challenged player was sophomore safety Robert Lester, who had three passes thrown his way without a completion. On his interception Lester was keying tight end Ryan Otten, but when he got turned around saw the quarterback still in his throwing motion was able to jump the route. San Jose State completed just eight passes, all under the coverage, and true freshman linebacker C.J. Mosley missed at least two potential interceptions while racking up a team-high seven tackles. The 49-yard completion was aided by the linebackers biting on the play-action and Lester not having the right angle on his missed tackle.

Kicking units: The base kickoff unit was Dre Kirkpatrick, Brandon Gibson, Phelon Jones, Lacy, Chavis Williams, Cade Foster, Jordan, Lester, Alex Watkins, Lowery and Hardie Buck was wearing No. 81 on the end. Some of the substitutes included Nick Perry, Nico Johnson, Patrick, Jalston Fowler, Jarrick Williams and DeMarcus Milliner. Foster made two tackles and had one touchback but got an earful from Saban when a kick landed at the 10. Lacy had the tackle on the kickoff following his long touchdown. On kick returns, Julio Jones and Richardson were deep with Preston Dial, Billingsley and Michael Williams the staggered line before them, with Gibson, Watkins, Chavis Williams, Brad Smelley, Jerrell Harris and Lowery up front.

Punting units: The mainstays were true freshman punter Cody Mandell, who had two 52-yard punts with great hang time along with an 18-yard result, sophomore snapper Carson Tinker and Smelley making the calls. Others rotated, but coaches weren't afraid to use some of the top players including Dont'a Hightower and Kirkpatrick. On returns, Julio Jones called for a fair catch, but Maze and Hanks both tried to field a punt when they shouldn't. Consequently, Alabama's longest return was just three yards.

Penalties: Alabama had four for 40 yards, two of which were pretty damaging. Lowery's personal foul nullified a big kick return by Richardson, while Lester's face-mask penalty on Brandon Rutley's 32-yard run helped set up San Jose State's field goal. Hightower and redshirt freshman end Darrington Sentimore were flagged for jumping offside. The offense didn't have a penalty.

Injuries: Junior linebacker Courtney Upshaw tried to play with a sprained ankle only to end up being treated in the locker room. He eventually did return to the sideline still in uniform and watched redshirt freshman Ed Stinson fill in at Jack. Fluker was hobbled by a sprained ankle, but finished the series before having it taped. Carpenter did briefly head to the locker room after he had been pulled from the game, but it was not injury-related. On his fumble Lacy landed on the back legs of Dial, who was slow to get up but stayed in the game. Buck got his bell rung on a kick return. When trying to walk off the field he was actually moving sideways and had to be helped.


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