And with this convincing win, the Crimson Tide will be riding a much needed wave of confidence into its first Southeastern Conference road game against Arkansas next week. Not only did Alabama football fans need this, the team needed this. After three weeks of questions – of on-the-field matters and off-the-field manners – this was a weekend for answers.
Reviewing the reasons to be pessimistic or somber entering the game, and the answers delivered Saturday night:
Running back Kenneth Darby – The Crimson Tide senior averaged 45 yards per game in the first two contests. He stumbled and couldn't keep his feet through the first two games, owing much of it to an annoying hip pointer he got in the first series of the season opener.
Answer: Darby still didn't eclipse the 100-yard mark, but broke out of the slump nonetheless, running for 79 yards on 14 attempts (the 5.6 yards per carry were his highest of the season), while sitting out the fourth quarter because of the Tide's comfortable lead.
"I'm starting to get more of a feel for it," Darby said. "They're starting to get me the ball more, I feel like. I'm just feeling better, health wise. I'm having fun, feeling healthy and running around better than I did the first two games. I feel like I'm getting better each game. I haven't had my breakout game yet, but I feel it coming."
It certainly looks like a resounding yes to the question, "Is Darby okay?"
Offensive line run-blocking - Some of the early woes for Darby could be attributed to the Alabama offensive line. Tide Head Coach Mike Shula attributed equal responsibility for rushing performance to the offensive line as he did Darby, stressing work in that area during the week. The right side of the line with Chris Capps and B.J. Stabler looked particularly vulnerable.
Answer: Not so tonight. The fact is that Bama has faced three meager defenses, but had its most success by far against Louisiana-Monroe.
"I think we established the line of scrimmage, both run and pass," offensive line coach Bob Connelly said.
Entering the game averaging just shy of 130 yards per game against its first two opponents, Bama rushed for 219 against ULM, including domination with second teamers in a situation when there was no chance Alabama was passing. Roy Upchurch, Ali Sharrief and Terry Grant all got in on the action late, combining for 90 yards on 18 carries (a respectable five yards per carry.) Can Alabama establish the run? It sure looked like it Saturday night.
Discipline - A nauseating amount of discussion about how Mike Shula handles his team's disciplinary action has been bandied about since linebacker Juwan Simpson's mid-summer arrest. For better or worse, it has been the topic of debates, both faux, intelligently dishonest ones, as well as legitimate concerns being shared among objective observers.
Answer: In one night Shula provided more answers than anyone has been able to obtain in the previous four months. The end of the suspensions, and the speculation, allowed everyone to breathe a sigh of relief – even if it's only temporary.
There will absolutely be more questions emanating from this game and in the future, but for all except the most pessimistic, tonight's performance serves as a short respite from the intense hand-wringing.