Alabama opens Southeastern Conference play next Saturday hosting Mississippi in a game that will be nationally telecast on the sports cable network ESPN2. Kickoff will be at 8 p.m. CDT from Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said, "It felt good to get back to winning."
He noted Bama didn't quite get over the hump in the second half. "It was nice to come out in the second half and get a little momentum. We did a good job running the football."
He added, "Overall, it was a good win. But we've got to put it behind us and get ready for Ole Miss."
After a first half that missed by just a few plays of being dominant, the Tide came out after halftime with a vengeance. The Bama defense shut down the Aggies and forced a pass that was tipped and picked off by freshman Simeon Castille, playing nickel back. Castille took it 31 yards to a touchdown and a 24-10 lead.
The offense cooled a bit on its next possession, settling for a 32-yard Brian Bostick field goal and a 34-10 lead. Bostick was perfect on the night with two field goals and six-of-six extra point kicking.
The Aggies didn't roll over in that explosive third quarter. Helped by two major distance penalties against Alabama, Utah State went 72 yards in six plays to a touchdown with quarterback Travis Cox hitting Chris Forbes on a 21-yard touchdown to cut the Bama lead to 34-17.
But Alabama's second half fireworks didn't end with the third quarter. Early in the fourth quarter Bama faced third and 10 and Croyle hit Brown for the first down. Ray Hudson followed with a 47-yard run to the Utah State six. And two-and-a-half minutes into the fourth quarter Bama had a 41-17 advantage as Tim Castille went in from a yard out.
Although there were no official statistics immediately available, it could have been the first time in Alabama history that brothers had scored touchdowns in the same game. Also among brothers, all three Britt brothers–starting offensive tackle Wesley, back-up center Taylor, and freshman back-up defensive tackle Justin–played in the game.
Hudson finished the scoring as he went in from seven yards out to cap a nine-play, 66-yard fourth quarter drive.
Utah State's kicking game was considered to be suspect at best, but the Aggies got a couple of big plays in the kicking game to make it a game at halftime. After Kenneth Darby's first Alabama touchdown, a 35-yard burst, gave Bama a 17-7 lead, the Tide defense held Utah State. The Aggies' punt was downed at the Alabama one-yard line and Bama was unable to dig out of the hole. After punting, Utah State completed one pass, then got a 44-yard field goal from Ben Chaet that cut Alabama's lead to 17-10 at intermission.
Alabama had taken a 3-0 lead following the opening kickoff, but the three points on a 28-yard Brian Bostick field goal was mildly disappointing. Bama, which had opened the game with its "Big Load" offense with former fullback Tim Castille at halfback and LéRon McClain at fullback and two tight ends, put the ball at the Utah State three-yard line with a second and goal. The "Big Load" package was put back on the field, but it was a deception that backfired. Croyle was trapped for a loss and the drive died.
Utah State gave early evidence that the Aggies were just making a trip. Utah State drove 70 yards in five plays with quarterback Travis Cox hitting Kevin Robinson on a 35-yard touchdown pass to close the game to 17-7.
Darby was excellent in his role as back-up tailback, picking up a 29-yard touchdown to cap a four-play, 50-yard drive and give Alabama a 17-7 lead.
Alabama dominated statistically. The Tide had 21 first downs to Utah State's 13. Bama had 44 rushes for 255 yards and the Aggies 25 runs for 61 yards. Alabama (all Croyle) completed 16 of 22 passes for 205 yards with no interceptions while the visitors completed 17 of 34 passes for 205 yards with two interceptions. Alabama had total offense of 66 plays for 460 yards, Utah State 59 plays for 266 yards. Alabama had no fumbles and only five penalties for 55 yards. Bama scored on all five of its Red Zone opportunities.
Darby and Hudson each rushed for 111 yards, Darby on 11 carries and Hudson on 16. Tim Castille added nine carries for 45 yards.
Brown had four receptions for 91 yards in his Crimson Tide debut, and fellow freshman D.J. Hall had three catches for 34 yards. Shula said, "The freshmen wide receivers had a few breakdowns, but they also showed some confidence."
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans did not start the game, but played and seemed to do well. Juke King got his first Alabama start in place of Ryans. Ryans has been rehabilitating a turned ankle. Also questionable prior to the game was linebacker Terrance Jones, who also played both on special teams and at linebacker.
One play used by Bama against Utah State? The Utah pass, known at Alabama, though, as the whoopee pass.
The SEC officiating crew led by referee Rocky Goode was the same one that botched the nationally-televised college season-opener, Southern Cal vs. Virginia Tech, last week. There was no apparent improvement.
The game was basically a sellout, attendance listed at 82,033.
Nine true freshmen saw action in the opener. Wide receivers D.J. Hall, Keith Brown, and Zeke Knight, tight end Trent Davidson, and halfback Aaron Johns saw offensive playing time; tackle Justin Britt and cornerback Simeon Castille on defense; and wide receiver Marcel Stamps and defensive back Marcus Carter were used on special teams.
Additionally, junior college transfer Chris Turner saw action at defensive end and sophomore transfer Jeffrey Dukes was used on special teams. Other transfers playing for the first time were junior defensive tackle Rudy Griffin, who started, and snapper Drew Lane.
One of the highlights for Bama was the kickoff work of redshirt freshman Jamie Christensen, who hit most of his into or beyond the end zone. He kicked off nine times and had one out of bounds, three returned for 64 total yards, and five touchbacks.
The new grass on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium appeared to be in excellent condition after being replaced this summer. The end zones had ALABAMA in red block letters, outlined in white, while midfield sported the script "A" in Alabama Crimson Tide circle logo.