D.J. Hall, ordinarily a starting wide receiver, was held out of the game with an ankle injury.
Andre Smith, the 335-pound offensive tackle from Birmingham Huffman, was the Crimson Tide starter at left offensive tackle, making him the seventh true freshman, and fourth true freshman offensive lineman, to start the season-opener since freshmen were made eligible for varsity play in 1972.
Previous true freshmen to start the season-opening game were offensive tackle Larry Rose in 1985, offensive tackle Jon Stevenson in 1991, tight end Terry Jones, Jr., in 1998, offensive tackle Dante Ellington in 1999, linebacker Saleem Rasheed in 1999, and fullback Tim Castille in 2003.
The first true freshman to see action Saturday night was cornerback Marquis Johnson, who was on the kickoff coverage team and played as a back-up in the secondary in the opening drive (though not on the opening play).
Alabama used seven first time starters. In addition to Smith, they were offensive guard Justin Britt, quarterback John Parker Wilson, defensive end Keith Saunders, middle linebacker Matt Collins, safety Marcus Carter, and nickel back Rashad Johnson. (Although Jeffrey Dukes was a first time starter at strong safety, he started at nickel back in the Cotton Bowl to end last season.)
Alabama started defensively with three down linemen and five defensive backs. Ramzee Robinson was at left cornerback, Simeon Castille at right cornerback, Marcus Carter at safety, Jeffrey Dukes at strong safety, and Rashad Johnson the nickel back.
After opening every 2005 game with a pass, Bama was in a two-tight end formation on its first offensive play of 2006 and—to the surprise of no one—the first play was a run by All-America candidate halfback Kenneth Darby.
For the fifth consecutive season opening game, the Alabama defense provided a score for the Crimson Tide. Bama recorded a safety when a mishandled snap on a punt went out of the end zone for a safety. Other opening day scores by the defense include Freddie Roach with a 41-yard interception return against Middle Tennessee in 2002, Charlie Peprah with a 51-yard interception return against South Florida in 2003, Simeon Castille a 31-yard interception return vs. Utah State in 2004, and safeties against MTSU last year and Hawaii this year.
One interesting Alabama strategy: After a nice completion from John Parker Wilson to Keith Brown near the sidelines, Bama went into hurry-up mode with a quick play that reduced time for a review of the play.
Some 600 former Alabama players were on the field prior to the game. In a twist on the tradition of a former player presenting the game ball to the officials, four former players participated in the ceremony. The common thread is that the four are battling cancer. They are Ken James, Kareem McNeal, John O'Linger, and Jack Rutledge.
Former Alabama players the late Jim Loftin, Bobby Luna, and Mal Moore were selected as this year's winners of the Paul W. Bryant Alumni Award for service to The University. Usually only two former players are selected, but this year the committee unanimously agreed that Moore—Bama's athletics director—should be included among the honorees.
Official attendance for the game was 92,138 as Alabama opened remodeled and expanded (by about 9,000 seats) Bryant-Denny Stadium. It is the largest crowd ever in a state stadium for a football game.
Alabama graduate and Sylacauga native Jim Nabors, a resident of Hawaii, sang the National Anthem in pre-game ceremonies.
There's a myth that teams coming into Alabama from areas without Dixie humidity will have a difficult time. Though that has never proved true, it wouldn't have mattered Saturday evening. Weather could not have been nicer. Temperatures were in the low 80s at the start of the game and fell into the 70s. Humidity was low and there was a nice breeze.
Among prospects spotted on the sidelines were defensive end Sidell Corley of Mobile McGill-Toolen. Corley made a commitment to Florida earlier this year, but insiders suggest he'll change that to Alabama, perhaps this weekend.