Alabama Rolls, But It Wasn’t Beautiful

On a day when several Southeastern Conference football teams struggled, Alabama only looked like it was in a struggle as it played a herky-jerky sort of game Saturday. The Crimson Tide got the job done, though, with a 37-10 win over Middle Tennessee State.

With the victory in the home opener, second-ranked Alabama improved to 2-0.

Alabama opens Southeastern Conference play next weekend hosting Ole Miss at 8:15 p.m. CDT in Bryant-Denny Stadium. ESPN will televise the game. The Rebels have scored 149 points in their first two games this season.

There were good things in Alabama’s win, notably four takeaways (three fumble recoveries, one interception) and a blocked punt.

There were interesting things, notably Jacob Coker getting the start at quarterback, but not playing in the second half as Cooper Bateman quarterbacked the third and all but part of a series in the fourth quarter.

Derrick Henry scored three rushing touchdowns for Bama with Rod Foster and Kenyan Drake scoring one each on pass receptions (Foster from Coker, Drake from Bateman). Adam Griffith was good on all five of his extra points, but missed two field goal tries – a chip shot 24-yarder and a 49-yard try.

Bama’s other points came when safety Ronnie Harrison blocked a Middle Tennessee State punt out of the end zone for a safety.

Alabama dominated statistically. The Tide had 28 first downs to 15 by MTSU. Bama had 39 rushes for 220 yards, completed 26-43 passes for 312 yards with two interceptions, and had total offense of 82 plays for 532 yards, 6.5 per play. Middle Tennessee, which came in with the reputation for fast play after running 90 plays a week ago, had 31 rushes for 86 yards, completed 23-43 passes for 189 yards with one interception, and had total offense of 74 plays for 275 yards, 3.7 per play.

Alabama did not have a fumble in the game. The Tide also had great improvement in its penalty situation from the opening game, when Bama was flagged for 120 yards. On Saturday Bama drew five penalties for 40 yards. The Blue Raiders were flagged eight times for 67 yards.

Henry was Alabama’s leading rusher, picking up 96 yads on 18 carries. Freshman Damien Harris, running in mop-up work, had eight runs for 55 yards. Drake had 6-41.

Drake added five receptions for a team-high 91 yards. Ardarius Stewart had a team-best six catches, but for only 21 yards. O.J. Howard had four catches for 68 yards, Robert Foster 4-49, and Dalvin Ridley 4-37.

JK Scott isn’t back to 2014 form yet, but he did have five punts for a 40.2 average.

Defensively, Alabama was led by linebackers Reggie Ragland with 9 tackles (6 primary), including one for loss and a caused fumble; Denzel Devall (7 tackles, 4 primary) and one for loss; and Reuben Foster with 6 tackles (1 primary) and two passes broken up. Fumbles were recovered by Jarran Reed, Geno Matias-Smith, and Eddie Jackson. Jackson and Marlon Humphrey also caused fumbles.

Middle Tennessee was led in rushing by quarterback Brent Stockstill, and he completed 22-42 passes for 174 yards withone interception. Richie James was top receiver for the Blue Raiders with 10 catches for 95 yards.

Although Alabama’s first half looked as though it had been inspired by Auburn, thanks to a few big plays the Crimson Tide did have a 23-3 lead on the Blue Raiders at intermission. The final play of that first half was Alabama placekicker Adam Griffith missing a 24-yard field goal.

Middle Tennessee was generous to the Tide, including fumbling on the Raiders’ first offensive play. A pass was complete, but Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey yanked the ball out and safety Geno Matias-Smith fell on it for Bama at the MTSU 32. It took four plays for Alabama to get on the board, with Jacob Coker throwing to Rob Foster on a bubble screen and Foster running it in from 19 yards out. Griffith kicked Bama to a 7-0 lead with two-and-a-half minutes gone in the first quarter.

Early in the second quarter, Middle Tennessee got on the board with a 37-yard field goal by Cody Clark.

Alabama responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive. A Coker pass to O.J. Howard got 41 of those yards on first down. Nine plays later Derrick Henry went in from two yards out and Bama had a 14-3 lead.

Brent Stockstill took a chance on a sideline pass that was picked off by Bama’s Cyrus Jones at the Alabama 30. Kenyan Drake got 69 of those 70 on first down, a shovel pass that he took down the left sideline. Waiting for blockers, by the time he broke loose for the goalline, he was caught from behind. No problem. Henry took it in for his second touchdown and a 21-3 Alabama lead.

Alabama was not immune to turnovers. With the ball at its own 45 with 4:49 left in the half, Coker went deep and his pass was picked off by the Raiders’ Kevin Byard at the 1. A couple of minutes later MTSU was forced to punt, and Bama freshman Ronnie Harrison went up the middle and blocked Trevor Owens’s punt. The ball went out of the end zone for a safety and a 23-3 Tide lead.

After the free kick, Alabama was able to drive to the Middle Tennessee 6, but it took 10 plays (plus a couple of penalty plays) and all but six seconds of the 2:32 Bama had been given. Griffith’s kick was wide left.

Alabama blew its first opportunity of the second half. After Eddie Jackson recovered a Middle Tennessee fumble on the Raiders’ first possession to set the Tide up at the 29, Bama changed to Cooper Bateman at quarterback. The first drive went no where. The second drive, however, got the touchdown.

Alabama did stretch its lead to 37-3 in the third quarter with Drake and Henry scoring touchdowns.

On Bama’s second possession of the quarter, Drake started and ended the four-play, 55-yard drive. He opened it with a 13-yard run and ended it taking a shovel pass from Bateman and going in from 14 yards out for a 30-3 lead.

With just over six minutes to play in the third quarter, MTSU downed a punt at the Alabama 3. Bateman took the Tide on an 11-play, 97-yard drive that featured Henry. He had 65 yards on seven carries in the march, that took 4:36. His last two runs were for 19 and 28 yards, sandwiched around a 16-yard pass to Calvin Ridley. The 28-yard TD run, Henry’s third of the game, made it 37-3.

At that point, the work of the first team for Alabama was pretty much done.

A nice punt return by Richard Mullaney set Bama up at MTSU’s 45 with just over eight-and-a-half minutes to play. Bateman completed a 31-yard pass to tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith to the 14, and it looked as though Alabama might tack on some style points. On a two-and-four from the eight, though, Bateman’s pass was picked off at the three-yard line and looked like it might be a length-of-field pick six, but freshman tailback Damien Harris ran down Jeremy Cutrer at the 20.

From there it was the Blue Raiders getting the mean-nothing points.

It did mean something to MTSU quarterback Austin Grammer, the backup to starter Brent Stockstill. Grammer is from Tuscaloosa and he completed a third-and-five pass to a wide open Rod Ducksworth in the end zone to finish the scoring, Alabama 37, Middle Tennessee 10.

Alabama ran out the clock with freshman tailback Damien Harris doing most of the work and Alec Morris getting some snaps at quarterback.

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