September 1, 2007

Notebook: McClain shines in debut

The Western Carolina game was a chance for the Alabama Crimson Tide to showcase some its veteran playmakers but the Tide's most impressive performance may have come from a newcomer. True freshman linebacker Rolando McClain started at middle linebacker in Saturday's 52-6 win and his seven tackle performance stood out to McClain's coaches and teammates.

"I think the kid's got a good attitude," said head coach Nick Saban of McClain's performance. "I think he showed a lot of maturity to go out there and be a signal caller his first game in college with a new system. Here's a kid from up North in Alabama, came down and learned this system as a freshman, called it the whole game and never ever had a huddle. He did a fantastic job."

McClain's teammates credited the true freshman for the team's improved communication on the defense side of the ball, with the Decatur native taking on the primary signal calling duties for the Tide defense in his first collegiate game.

"It's been awesome the way he's come in and been able to help us," said senior cornerback Simeon Castille. "He's one heck of a football player. We're all out there trying to get the calls communicated to each other but he's really the main guy making the calls to the whole defense."

Saban said McClain's mental preparation for his college debut was the evident in his performance.

"We want guys to have confidence and your confidence comes from your preparation," Saban said. "That's where most young guys get in trouble. They don't know how to prepare. I have a lot of respect for Rolando McClain because he showed a lot of maturity in the way he prepared, he's got pride in his performance and because of that pride he wouldn't go out there and not know what to do in front of his teammates."

Tide backs share workload

Though Terry Grant was clearly the featured back of the Tide offense Saturday, Saban and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite shared the wealth with the Tide's entire stable of running backs with four different backs running for at least 30 yards.

"I was really please with how the other guys played because I think Terry is the kind of back where we want to have a tandem type running back situation," Saban said. "That would be beneficial to him, and I was pleased with the way all the running backs played in this game."

Junior Jimmy Johns appeared to be the compliment to Grant early in the game rumbling for 31 yards on 8 carries and scoring a touchdown for the Tide early in the fourth quarter. Johns also hauled in two catches for 28 yards.

Sophomore Glen Coffee who missed 2006 with a knee injury returned to action for the Crimson Tide with a 9 carry, 76 yard performance scoring a touchdown in the third quarter. Coffee also reeled off a 32 yard receiving play.

Playing with the second and third team offense was Roy Upchurch seeing his first action with the Tide since playing mop-up duty against Louisiana-Monroe in 2006. Upchurch had 6 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown.

The team rushed for a total of 313 yards, the most by a Crimson Tide team since Alabama's win over South Carolina in 2005.

McElroy shows bright future for Tide offense

Redshirt freshman quarterback Greg McElroy was among several players who saw their first snaps for the Crimson Tide on Saturday night, completing 8-of-9 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown after replacing start John Parker Wilson in the third quarter.

"He did good. He came down on his first drive and threw a touchdown pass," said Wilson. "I told him it's not going to be like that all year but he did great, he knew his offense, he handled the ball and he handled the game in a very good manner."

Saban said he was pleased with the play of both Wilson and McElroy and was pleased with the poise McElroy showed against Western Carolina's defense.

"I thought they took what the defense gave them, mostly," Saban said. "We had a few inaccurate throws but not many. I like the tempo and the mix and the balance we created with our offensive team. I think the players around the quarterbacks helped the quarterbacks play well."

Many happy returns

The Crimson Tide turned out impressive numbers on both offense and defense against Western Carolina but it was the special teams that showed the most improvement over last season. Return specialist Javier Arenas ran back a career-long 45-yard kickoff return early in the second quarter after opening the game with a 30-yard return.

"I thought the kicking game was an asset for us overall in this game," Saban said. "The return game certainly set up our field position well and the kicking game was good for us in terms of controlling the field position throughout the game."

"I think we put it in opponents' minds that we can make big plays on special teams, not just on offense and defense. Every aspect of the ballgame we are out to make big plays."

Arenas also returned two punts for a total of 13 yards while transfer Jonathan Lowe ran back a 23-yard punt return on his first snap for the Crimson Tide.

Notes and Quotes

* Nick Saban on Leigh Tiffin's 1-for-3 performance as placekicker.

"We did miss a couple of field goals and that's certainly something we need to work on but for the most part I thought the kicking was good."

* Nick Saban on if he feels relief following the season-opening win.

"I don't have any relief. I don't have relief syndrome. Our focus is on improving. We need to improve a lot. We're going to play a very good football team coming up this week against Vanderbilt and we're going to have to make a significant amount of improvement. When we get finished playing the last play of the last game, I'll be relieved. Until then, I'm always looking forward to the next thing to improve."

* Terry Grant's game-opening touchdown run marks the first time the Tide offense has scored on its opening play from scrimmage its 2005 Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech.

* The 52 points scored by Alabama is the most points scored by an Alabama team on an opening day since a 66-0 win over Cal at Legion Field in 1973.

* Alabama's 575 total yards of offense are the most by a Tide offense since 2001 in a 56-3 win over UTEP.

* The Alabama offense racked up 35 first downs against Western Carolina, breaking the previous school record of 34 set against Penn State in 1983.

* Alabama moves to 124-43-8 all time in night games.

* Rolando McClain and defensive back Kareem Jackson became just the 8th and 9th players in Alabama football history to start a season opener as a true freshman.

* Wide receiver DJ Hall's 52 yards on four catches put him just 101 yards shy of becoming the school's all-time leader for career receiving yards.


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