No. 1 Alabama didn't need arguably its two best players on either side of the ball Sept. 4 against San Jose State, as it raced out to a big early lead and let the backups do the rest in a 48-3 rout in front of a capacity crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"I think the real emphasis with our team was, all along, to develop an identity for this team for 2010 and focus on the things that we need to do to create that in terms of the effort the toughness, the discipline to execute," coach Nick Saban said. "I was pretty pleased with that."
All that went wrong for the Crimson Tide happened before the game.
Ingram hurt his knee in practice Monday and required arthroscopic surgery, a procedure that will likely keep the running back out of the Sept. 11 game against Penn State. Dareus, considered a top NFL prospect, was suspended two games by the NCAA on Sept. 2, and the defensive end will not play against the Nittany Lions.
San Jose State's arrival made that easy to forget in front of more than 100,000 fans. Alabama led 31-3 at halftime, thanks to strong running from backup Trent Richardson (66 yards, two touchdowns) and efficient passing from Greg McElroy (13 of 15 for 218 yards and one touchdown), both of whom sat out most of the second half.
Their departures allowed players such as backup quarterback A.J. McCarron (9 of 15, 116 yards, TD) and running back Eddie Lacy (111 yards, two TDs) to receive an uncommon amount of repetitions and exposure.
"I think they have a better idea of what you expect, and they have a better idea of how you expect them to do it and why it's important for them to do it that way," Saban said. "A lot of guys got to play, and a lot of guys did a lot of good things. Just about all of them have things to work on, so they can get better."
Julio Jones has made plenty of big catches throughout his career, both in high school and in his first two years at Alabama, but none compared to his touchdown grab Sept. 4 against San Jose State.
He said so himself.
"I've made some great catches in practice," he said, "but not in a game."
Jones hauled in the touchdown grab by extending himself fully with a dive, snagging the ball thrown by backup A.J. McCarron with his left hand, pulling it to his chest and then rolling on top of it to secure the touchdown.
"It was surreal," McCarron said. "I just heard the crowd and chest-bumped my center."
Alabama used 14 first-time starters against San Jose State, seven on defense. The Crimson Tide only had to replace two starters on offense.
"We have a lot of young guys, but they have shown a lot of improvement," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "They have been able to learn the system quickly and go out there and show that."
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Greg McElroy -- The Rhodes Scholar nominee made it look more than easy against an overmatched San Jose State defense, completing 13 of 15 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown. He played just one series in the second half before giving way to backup A.J. McCarron. McElroy is already one of the team's biggest leaders, but his responsibilities are expected to increase over the next couple of games until Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram returns from his knee injury.
KEEP AN EYE ON: LB C.J. Mosley -- The freshman had plenty of chances to make a strong first impression and he certainly made the most of it, leading Alabama with seven tackles, three solos. Mosley isn't a starter -- yet. "You don't see many freshmen like C.J. Mosley come in and lead the team in tackles like he did and make that many big plays," Hightower said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We started fast and finished strong. We came together as the game went on. It was good to finally be in a game situation. A lot of people were able to see the field tonight and gain valuable experience for future games." -- RB Trent Richardson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Alabama running game showed it didn't need a Heisman Trophy winner to move the ball, as Trent Richardson (66 yards, 2 TDs) and little-known Eddie Lacy (111 yards, 2 TDs) dominated against San Jose State. One of the most underrated facets of Alabama's team is a strong offensive line, which returned three of its five starters from last season. LG Chance Warmack and RT D.J. Fluker stepped right in and didn't miss a beat.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The Alabama defense only surrendered three points, but it will need more than its effort in the opener to regain the mojo it carried throughout last season's national championship run. There were a few breakdowns on defense that didn't exactly please coach Nick Saban and the group surrendered an early field goal when emotions were high and all the starters were still on the field. You don't return just three starters and immediately rejuvenate team chemistry, so it's still very much a work in progress.
LB Courtney Upshaw appeared to hurt his ankle in the second quarter. Coach Nick Saban said Upshaw should be available Sept. 11 against Penn State.
Alabama decided not to appeal Dareus' NCAA suspension.