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September 20, 2009

Upon Further Review: North Texas at Alabama

There are times it may be simply best to let the opposition do the talking, especially after a game like the University of Alabama's 53-7 victory over North Texas on Saturday.

"They were as advertised," North Texas coach Todd Dodge said. "Coming in and preparing for them we felt like there was definitely a reason they were ranked No. 4 in the nation. They obviously should, and have high hopes of being able to play for a national championship. They've got all the ingredients you need -- a big physical offensive line, tough running backs, an accurate quarterback and a defense that's very tenacious."

Considering how many questions the Crimson Tide had coming into the season, especially offensively with so many new starters including junior quarterback Greg McElroy and three linemen, Alabama probably couldn't be in a better position to begin Southeastern Conference play -- and that's with sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones hardly being a factor yet.

Player of the game: Although Javier Arenas' 151 return yards were pretty impressive, McElroy completed 13 of 15 passes for 176 yards, two touchdowns, ran in another, and had no interceptions. In the process, he tied the school record for best completion percentage in a single game with a minimum of 10 completions (86.7 percent, Walter Lewis, 1983 vs. Ole Miss, and Danny Woodson, 1991 vs. Vanderbilt).

Play of the game: The 34-yard touchdown pass to Marquis Maze near the end of the first quarter made it 14-0 and ended any doubt of how the game would go. The pass came off a play-action fake to freshman running back Trent Richardson, with the sophomore wide receiver beating junior Ira Smith to the end zone in single-man coverage.

Hit of the game: Although it wasn't the hardest hit, the one that got the most attention was when North Texas essentially ran a screen pass into senior nose guard Terrence Cody, who promptly flattened redshirt freshman wide receiver Darius Carey for a 3-yard loss. Honorable mention goes to true freshman Nico Johnson on the last kick return. Incidentally, Cody finished with five tackles and Johnson made four.

Statistic of the game: While North Texas accumulated 35 of its 61 rushing yards in the fourth quarter against the Tide reserves, Alabama has allowed an average of 42 rushing yards per game (126 total). Not only does that lead the SEC, but is second nationally to Oklahoma (40.67).

Did you notice? North Texas executed just four plays in Alabama territory, the first with 2:57 remaining in the third quarter. Also, the entire game was played in two hours, 52 minutes, thanks to the teams combining for only 27 offensive plays in the fourth quarter, 24 of which were runs.

Most of the game was pretty straight forward, but here are 10 things you may not have noticed:

1. McElroy's performance: Except for the first play, the other five times McElroy stepped on the field the Crimson Tide scored a touchdown, with drives of 95, 67, 83, 68 and 39 yards. The team converted all six third-down opportunities with him at quarterback, when he was 4-for-4. McElroy attempted only one pass in the red zone, which was dropped. His only other miss was a deep attempt to sophomore tight end Brad Smelley, who wasn't open. In Alabama's last 10 quarters, McElroy's completion percentage is 80.3 (37-of-46 for 468 yards).

2. Star Jackson's performance: Give coaches a lot of credit for inserting the redshirt freshman with 2:08 remaining in the half, as it had to be a huge confidence boost for both him and the team as a whole. It'll help a lot should Jackson be pressed into service later this season, knowing that he's already had success running the first-team offense. Jackson completed 9 of 13 passes for 87 yards, but more importantly was efficient and had no interceptions. As for the two botched snaps, it sounded like someone said "hut" while Jackson was still directing teammates on the first one, and the second was just a low snap from converted guard David Ross. He was 4-for-6 on third downs, converting three, and made his only pass in the red zone.

3. Where did the Tide run? About the only thing the Tide didn't do while accumulating 260 rushing yards was go around the left end, where there was just one carry for a 1-yard loss. Alabama had its greatest success running behind the left tackle and guard, especially James Carpenter and Mike Johnson, for 118 yards including Richardson's game-long 38-yard carry. The Tide also had 60 yards up the gut, led by sophomore Mark Ingram's 17-yard carry, but he also had an 18-yard run behind the right guard and the 22-yarder behind right tackle Drew Davis. Overall, the new linemen are getting more accustomed to pulling. For example, during Ingram's 22-yard run guard Barrett Jones was out in front and center William Vlachos had a key block.

4. The first play: Yes, it was a fumble. North Texas junior end Sam Owusu-Hemeng got around Carpenter and hit the ball before McElroy's arm started moving forward, thus why the quarterback went after the loose ball. The play was supposed to feature a post route downfield to exploit something the Tide saw on film, and was used later for a Darius Hanks reception.

5. The receiving corps: The Tide had 11 different players make catches, including three running backs and two tight ends. Of the 263 receiving yards, 134 were after the catch. Senior Mike McCoy already has eight catches for 138 yards, which is just 53 short of his season total last year, and Maze needs just 31 yards to match his 2008 total.

6. The North Texas touchdown: The play was set up by an impressive 32-yard catch by Michael Outlaw after quarterback Nathan Tune rolled to his right and brought the safety down just enough to make the completion over Marquis Johnson and Roby Green. On the touchdown itself, cornerback Kareem Jackson blitzed and it appeared that the Tide was in zone coverage with both sophomore safety Mark Barron and linebacker Cory Reamer on the receiver who cut inside, leaving Lance Dunbar alone to make the catch out of the backfield and score the 34-yard touchdown.

7. Whom did North Texas attack? The Mean Green didn't go downfield much, but challenged Barron and Marquis Johnson the most and only had a 17-yard completion to show for it (on an outstanding catch by Carey). Barron made a great play on his knockdown and probably should have had an interception on another attempt. Everything else was either a screen or thrown underneath because North Texas didn't want to challenge the Tide deep or leave the quarterback open to hits.

8. Starters and relievers: Alabama used 65 players, essentially signaling who is expected to be involved this season or redshirted. Seeing their first action were Robert Lester, Kyle Pennington, Undra Billingsley and Alex Watkins. Chris Underwood and Chavis Williams made their season debuts. Michael Bowman had his first reception, as did sophomore Brandon Gibson. A notable name who did not get into the game was B.J. Scott. Senior end Brandon Deaderick returned to the starting lineup, and McCoy filled in for Jones. Preston Dial took Damion Square's spot on kick returns.

9. Special teams: Arenas had a terrific game, and his 61-yard kick return in the third quarter was a yard short of his career best (62 vs. Tennessee, 2007). There were no personnel changes on kickoff coverage after yielding touchdowns in each of the first two games, but reserves played later on. The long kick return nullified by a penalty came after Demetrius Goode (he later may have taken a helmet to his right knee at the end of his 14-yard carry) replaced Richardson on the unit, and the hole was on that side. As for extra points, both misses were to the right, but senior Leigh Tiffin's kickoffs averaged 68.7 yards and resulted in two touchbacks.

10. Penalties: Alabama only had two, a holding call on Vlachos and Star Jackson flagged for delay of game in the red zone. In comparison, the Tide had 17 penalties in the first two games combined. A couple of players were nearly called for a block to the back, but in one case the returner was already beyond the block.


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