Younger Players Step Up For Tide

The extra nine thousand-plus fans in the stands at the renovated Bryant-Denny Stadium weren't the only new faces who stood out in Alabama's runaway 48-3 opening win over San Jose State. Several notable players made their first starts and/or first appearances in crimson, and several contributed mightily to the win.



Take Alabama redshirt freshman running back Eddie Lacy, who entered the game as the backup to starter Trent Richardson. His first appearance didn't go so well, earning his coach's ire, but Lacy was able to bounce back and earn some accolades en route to being top-ranked Alabama's leading rusher in the Tide's 41-3 rout of outmanned San Jose State in its season opener.

"There's a lot of lessons to be learned, in terms of fumbling the ball (into the end zone) at the 2-yard line with a red shirt freshman running back," said Tide coach Nick Saban. "He took the wrong steps on that play."

Lacy was able to bounce back and finish as top-ranked Bama's leading rusher in his first varsity contest. He ran for 111 net yards on 13 carries, and scored from both 37 and 10 yards out.

Said offensive guard Barrett Jones, "It was (Lacy's) first time under the lights. He bounced back from the fumble, and ended up having an awesome night. He made some great runs."

He apparently improved in several areas since this time a year ago.

"Eddie has come a long way from a toughness standpoint, and a maturity standpoint," Saban said, now playing the "good cop." The Tide coach added, "You (media) guys will notice the 111 net yards or whatever, but he did some other good things.

"We need another couple of running backs to surface."

In addition to Lacy, third man Demetrius Goode came in to finish with 66 yards on 11 totes. Lacy and Goode will continue vying for the third back role when Mark Ingram returns from an injured knee.

While Lacy's name is often discussed among the Tide faithful, it doesn't come up as much as back-up quarterback A.J. McCarron, another red shirt freshman who made a smashing debut. McCarron finished 9-15 passing for 116 yards in his debut, with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones on a diving, one-handed grab sure to make every highlight package.

McCarron said that play, and this night, were a dream come true.

"I've been dreaming about this night since I was four years old," beamed McCarron. "Going 2-2 right there (on his first drive), one to Julio, who's one of my best friends. Me and Julio worked a bunch during the off-season, just trying to get a feel for each other, in case I got an opportunity with the ones."

Regarding his first college touchdown pass, McCarron said, "I saw (Jones) give the outside nod, and the boundary safety went with him, so I just let it rip."

"Letting it rip" is how McCarron rolls.

"A.J. is a gun-slinger," Jones said. "He made the right read. A.J. threw the ball perfect, and I had to make a great catch."

Jones did that, and it stood despite a review.

McCarron's teammates believe in him. That much is obvious.

As Barrett Jones put it, "It's great to have such depth at quarterback. We know A.J. is a very talented guy. Greg McElroy's our guy right now, and we know that, but we have all the confidence in the world in A.J. when he comes in."

Brandon Gibson at receiver (three catches, 21 yards) and Robert Lester at safety (one sack for minus-nine yards, and one interception with a 15-yard return) are not "newbies," but both juniors have much bigger roles this year. Lester is now starting at safety.

"I just want people to know, I've been here long enough," Lester said. "I know what's going on, and I'm ready to give it my all. The biggest strength for me is mental. I've been able to learn the defense, and I can make the calls and make sure the defense is lined up correctly. That's big when you play for coach Saban."

Gibson has become the No. 4 receiver. Neither development shocks Julio Jones, who played high school ball with Lester at Foley and practices daily with Gibson.

"Robert stepped up, live," Jones said. "I knew he hade it in him. Brandon (Gibson), he's a sleeper. He's one of those guys that doesn't get a lot of hype. We're deep in talent. And we're hungry."

Jones and his mates will try to quench that hunger next week against a much tougher opponent when Penn State comes calling.

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