September 22, 2012; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Eddie Lacy (42) carries up the field against the Florida Atlantic Owls during the first quarter at Bryant Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE
Alabama settled for four field goals when touchdowns would’ve been better. The Tide lost the turnover battle 1-0. The passing game produced 247 yards, but Saban thought it could’ve been more clean. All that matters to Saban, which means it matters to his players, but on this day, the Crimson Tide coach wasn’t unhappy, and that doesn’t happen every week. Despite facing an overwhelmed opponent that entered as a 49-point underdog, Alabama prepared and played the way Saban wanted. "I was really much more pleased with the way our team approached this game, the way they actually played in the game in terms of the kind of intensity that we played with, the sense of urgency, the discipline that we had," he said.
It wasn't until late in the third quarter, after Alabama had brought in it's third string quarterback, that the Crimson Tide punted to FAU. Before that, Alabama starting quarterback AJ McCarron completed 15 of 25 pass attempts for 212 yards and three touchdowns, while Eddie Lacy, without breaking much of a sweat, rushed for 106 yards on 15 carries in only one half of play. Freshman T.J. Yeldon added 63 yards to Alabama's rushing total of 256 yards. Many of those rushing yards came after the FAU defense made initial contact, as the Alabama running backs frequently required three or four Owls to bring them down. "The yards after contact were ridiculous," Pelini said. "They're as physical a team as there is out there."
Florida Atlantic coach Carl Pelini called Alabama "as physical a team as there is out there." "That's not Georgia we faced today, that's Alabama -- it's very different, "Pelini said. "Different scheme-wise. I think they're more physical than Georgia. You know, I don't compare teams but they're just different. They play differently. They pressure more than Georgia did. They're physical in their man coverage."
Florida Atlantic defensive end Cory Henry caught plenty of grief this week for the laughable statement that his Owls had an edge in speed over the Tide. But he was correct when he said this about Alabama: "They're good and everything, but they can be beat, too." But Saban agrees with Henry. This is why Saban has pushed his team to keep improving and moving forward, no matter the results. This is why he was pleased with Saturday's game. He would've liked to clean up some of the mistakes, but he drew satisfaction from the effort and intensity he saw. He even appreciated his defense for its effort on that one late FAU touchdown drive. Alabama had a bunch of reserves on the field at the time, including five true freshmen, and they played hard, although not always well.
Saban was more pleased with his team in this rout than he was two weeks ago when Western Kentucky was dispatched by a similar margin. That assessment was based on effort, not margin of victory. But it was still far from perfect, or celestial, or any of the adjectives that seem to be attaching themselves magnetically to Alabama's mighty hull. There were passing game chances that went unexploited. There were trips to the red zone that ended in field goals instead of touchdowns. There were sacks of the quarterback. The defense didn't give up very much, but, for the first time this season, it didn't take anything away. Those aren't meant to be nitpicking criticisms, just part of maintaining a perspective that this stretch of the season is about improvement. That applies to Alabama's younger players, obviously, but to the veterans as well. Could the first defense have stopped FAU at the end? The answer, almost certainly, is yes. But their test will come later. So, there was a little disappointment, at least among the fans, that Alabama didn't quite deliver the goose egg on the scoreboard that it wanted to see. But in the process, it might have shown something that was well worth seeing.
After two consecutive shutouts, Alabama kept Florida Atlantic off the scoreboard until Graham Wilbert connected with Alex Deleon on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 2:49 remaining in the game, leaving UA less than three minutes short of recording back-to-back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1966. The scoreless streak lasted 192 minutes and 25 seconds, covering 12 straight scoreless quarters. "We never talk about it," coach Nick Saban said of the shutout streak. "As coaches we're just trying to get the guys to play as well as they can play and do what they're supposed to do. "I know that probably to the players it probably meant something, it probably means a lot." Even though UA's starters weren't on the field when the Owls finally scored, they were rooting to keep the streak alive. "As a whole unit on defense, we try to shut out everybody we play against," cornerback Dee Milliner said. "(The reserves) got in there late in the game, but we still played a great game as a whole defense."
Alabama’s players stood on benches, whirled towels and jumped along the sidelines. Their coaches were just as animated -- so animated that they were penalized for stepping too far onto the field. The Crimson Tide defense, which featured as many as five true freshmen on this particular possession, was on its heels, backed up inside its 10-yard line with less than 4 minutes to play. Florida Atlantic, which managed just 35 yards of offense before this drive, had finally mustered up enough momentum to threaten an Alabama shutout streak that spanned back to the end of the third quarter of its season-opening romp of Michigan. This is was arguably the most dramatic moment of Alabama’s season to date, and the Crimson Tide was up by 40.
"We got to play a lot of players today," coach Nick Saban said. "Those things are going to benefit us down the road." He thought the backups played better than they did a week ago, even though FAU scored a late touchdown and Arkansas never scored. Backup linebacker Denzel Devall, a true freshman, had five tackles (two solo) Saturday, nearly a team high. Backup safety Landon Collins, another true freshman, and veteran backup linebacker Tana Patrick were in on four tackles each. Playing time is treasured at Alabama. "Like Coach always tells us, every play you have is like a bar code," said Tide right tackle D.J. Fluker, a third-year starter who actually never has had the experience of coming off the bench. "We treat every play like it’s our last play."
There was drama in the fourth quarter of Florida Atlantic's game against No. 1 Alabama on Saturday Unfortunately for the Owls, the intrigue was when FAU threatened to end Alabama's bid for a third consecutive shutout in a game that had already been decided. FAU answered the challenge by scoring a late touchdown in a 40-7 loss. After a rough start to the day, the Owls have no choice but to take Graham Wilbert's 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Alex DeLeon with just 2:49 remaining in the game, "I don't know how important the touchdown was, but it is important that our guys never quit playing and that's the one thing I'll take away from this game," FAU coach Pelini said. "I promise you that doesn't excuse the way we started. We've got to be able to be a team that comes out with higher expectations and I don't think we did today. I think we let Alabama's reputation affect the way we started the game. If we are going to become the program I want to be, we can't do that no matter who we are playing."
A week ago, the coach was clear: The University of Alabama's second units had a long way to go in their game-day preparedness. Nick Saban made that point after a 52-0 win over Arkansas in which the second units played virtually all of the fourth quarter. In Saturday's 40-7 win over Florida Atlantic, the backups got another full quarter to make amends. And even though the Crimson Tide allowed a late touchdown to spoil what might have been a third consecutive shutout, Saban and players were just as clear in postgame remarks this week that steps forward were taken. "I think they were upset (about losing the shutout)," said starting linebacker Nico Johnson, who watched the fourth quarter from the sideline with the other starters. "Coach was preaching to them and all the younger guys how important it is to know what's going on and know what to do as far as their role. Last week when they got in, they messed up on some plays. They gave up some plays. I think Coach said they had eight mental errors in a row. They were kind of embarrassed by that, so they came back this past week and worked hard. Today they gave up the touchdown, but they're learning."
Distance placekicker Cade Foster set a career-long with a 52-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Foster, who hit from 51 yards last week at Arkansas, became the firstAlabama kicker since Neal Thomas in 2000 to connect on three 50-plus yard field goals in the same season. His 52-yard strike was the longest by a Tide kicker since Leigh Tiffin hit from 52 yards against Utah in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, 2009.
The junior from Mobile has become one of the college football's most recognizable figures as the signal-caller for the defending national champions. But to those closer to him, he's a lot more than a quarterback. To Starla Chapman, he's a hero. Last Christmas Eve, just a couple of weeks before he led a 21-0 win over LSU in the BCS Championship game, McCarron met Chapman at Mobile's USA Children's and Women's Hospital. He brought the 3-year-old Leukemia patient some Christmas gifts, but McCarron said he took more from the meeting than she did. "Her parents always say I was a blessing going into her life, but I think it's reversed, really," McCarron said. Starla gave McCarron one of her support bracelets the night they met, and he wears it on a regular basis. He delivered on a promise to wear it during the BCS title game against LSU, and the tie-dye colored bracelet was on his wrist this week after Tuesday's practice.
The East has a trio of legit contenders: Heading into the season, it was the SEC Western Division that had the Big Three. Now, it looks like the East might own that distinction. Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have all been playing high-quality ball the past few weeks, and Saturday delivered us the kind of victories we needed to see from the Bulldogs and Gamecocks. We knew Florida had some real bite and fight after back-to-back road wins in tough environments, then Georgia and South Carolina totally dismantled their opponents at home. Georgia crushed a talented Vanderbilt team 48-3, while South Carolina ran over Missouri 31-10. The race between these three for the East crown should be very exciting this season and it's time to seriously consider one of them having what it takes to really challenge the West winner in Atlanta.