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October 29, 2005TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Utah State is out of the way and Alabama is thinking championship -- at least in the Southeastern Conference, maybe beyond.
Brodie Croyle threw three touchdown passes and DJ Hall set an Alabama receiving record to keep the fifth-ranked Crimson Tide undefeated with a 35-3 win over Utah State on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide improved to 8-0 for the first time since 1994 and finished its nonconference season with an easy win that allowed the starters to rest in the fourth quarter after two straight dramatic, last-minute league wins.
Fifth in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings, the Tide starts its stretch run in the SEC next week against Mississippi State, hoping it will lead to a berth in the league title game -- and maybe a spot in the Rose Bowl after that.
``This is it. This is where we have to bear down and start playing our best football,'' said Croyle, who suffered a cut that required a single stitch on his throwing elbow.
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans said Alabama started fast and has to finish the season strong without worrying about what happens nationally.
``We just keep our focus on what we can control,'' said Ryans, with five tackles against the Aggies. ``We can control next week going down to Mississippi State. We can't control the national picture.''
Hall finished with 11 catches for 157 yards, becoming the first Alabama receiver to have
back-to-back games with at least 10 receptions. Hall caught 10 balls for 139 yards last week.
Alabama grabbed control barely five minutes into the game as Croyle threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Ezekial Knight on the first possession and followed with a 1-yard scoring pass to Le'Ron McClain the next time the Tide had the ball.
The teams then swapped possessions, with six punts between them, until Hall caught a 13-yard TD pass from Croyle shortly before halftime.
On the bench after three quarters, Croyle completed 22 of 31 passes for 279 yards without an interception. Substitute John Parker Wilson threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Glen Coffee.
Kenneth Darby, who scored on a 38-yard run, led Alabama's ground game with 147 yards on 15 rushes. Utah State (2-5) had 150 yards rushing, led by Ryan Bohm with 95.
Utah State coach Brent Guy said his team ``got the shock and awe slammed on us early.''
``There's a reason that Alabama is No. 5,'' he said. ``They have a very good defense. It takes me back to my Big Eight days. I haven't seen a defense that explosive in a while.''
Utah State's lone score came on a 24-yard field goal by Justin Hamblin on the Aggies' opening drive after halftime, the first points Alabama has given up in the third quarter all season.
Both teams also missed field goal attempts: Hamblin from 41 and 43 yards and Alabama's Jamie Christensen -- who beat Mississippi and Tennessee with clutch kicks the two previous weeks -- from 37 yards.
Utah State dropped to 1-9 against SEC teams, with the sole victory coming against Kentucky in 1970. The Aggies, who play in the Western Athletic Conference, scored a large payday for making the nearly 1,900-mile trip to Alabama.
One of the biggest cheers went up before kickoff, when injured 'Bama receiver Tyrone Prothro emerged from the locker room in a wheelchair four weeks after suffering a gruesome leg fracture in the Florida win.
Prothro, who underwent surgery after breaking both bones in his lower left leg, developed an infection in the hospital and was released only last week.
Also of note, Alabama wide receiver Keith Brown was heldout of Saturday's game with what was described by Shula as a thigh bruise.