By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
TUSCALOOSA — Teams that can’t hang on to the ball aren’t generally going to win too many games.
Western Kentucky learned that the hard way Saturday in Tuscaloosa, fumbling away the ball three times in the first half and throwing one interception in the second to hand Alabama an easy 35-0 shutout.
“Last year, as good as we were on defense, we didn’t really get very many fumbles,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “But it was a pretty good tradeoff for as well as they played. This year, I think if we can be a very good turnover team, that’ll be very beneficial to us.”
Top-ranked Alabama (2-0) took advantage of almost all those takeaways, giving AJ McCarron the opportunity to tie a career high with four touchdowns. The second-year quarterback split those scores with Christion Jones — he had a 14-yarder on the Tide’s first possession and a 22-yarder over three defenders in the second quarter — and Kevin Norwood — the junior pulled in a 33-yarder midway through the first quarter and added another in the third with a 12-yard grab.
McCarron finished the day 14-of-19 for 219 yards. Norwood was Alabama’s top receiver with 92 yards on three receptions, while Jones compiled 47 yards on the same number of catches.
“Everybody’s number is going to get called,” Jones said of the Tide’s stable of receivers. “We just try to take advantage of what we get because everyone thinks we’re just a running team. But we try to spread it out and let them know we’re also effective with the passing game.”
After opening the season in impressive fashion against Michigan the week prior, Alabama’s experienced offensive line showed signs of struggle versus the Hilltoppers (1-1). The Tide was only able to muster 103 rushing yards, and McCarron was sacked six times.
“We didn’t really execute well,” center Barrett Jones said. “I think we learned that at times we don’t bring our best, we’re pretty average.”
Eddie Lacy carried the ball nine times for 36 yards, and freshman Kenyan Drake had a 32-yard touchdown on his only attempt during garbage time in the fourth quarter.
T.J. Yeldon followed up his breakthrough debut with 25 yards on six carries and also had 47 receiving yards on a team-high four catches.
“They packed the box,” Barrett said of Western Kentucky’s strategy for slowing Alabama’s backfield. “We really expected that to happen, though. It’s hard to run the ball when you’re outmanned by two people. We had a good gameplan for it. We just didn’t execute it well.”
The Tide’s defense allowed the Hilltoppers to dink and dunk their way down the field for 14 first downs throughout the day. However, every time it appeared Western Kentucky was putting together a scoring drive, an Alabama defender put an end to it by stripping the ball.
In the first quarter, Nico Johnson delivered a bone-jarring hit to knock the ball out for Damion Square to fall on, and Adrian Hubbard forced another fumble that was scooped up by Brandon Ivory.
Xzavier Dickson chased down Hilltopper quarterback Kawaun Jakes from behind for a strip in the second quarter, which was picked up by Vinnie Sunseri.
The Tide’s final turnover came in the third quarter, when Jakes gave in to pressure from Square and sailed a pass over his receiver’s head and into the hands of Deion Belue.
“Giving the offense the ball back with great field position is just as big as a three-and-out,” Square said. “It’s even better. I’m sure they (the offense) appreciates that. We try to give them (turnovers) to them whenever we can.”
Dickson, Ed Stinson and C.J. Mosley all had one sack apiece. Mosley led Alabama with 11 tackles, while Nico Johnson wasn’t far behind with eight.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.