By Jimmy Burch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram –
ARLINGTON, Texas — A pair of Top 10 teams and one Heisman Trophy contender crossed paths Saturday night in Cowboys Stadium.
Only No. 2 Alabama exited with its pregame credentials intact.
The Crimson Tide, college football’s defending national champion, proved that its defense remains suffocating despite the loss of six starters to the NFL Draft. Alabama derailed the Heisman campaign of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, college football’s Mr. September for the past two seasons, by halftime in a 41-14 thrashing that underscored — again — the huge talent gap that exists between top teams from the SEC and the Not-So-Big Ten.
The Crimson Tide scored the first 31 points of the game and did so within the first 25 minutes in front of 90,413 fans and an ABC national television audience. By the time Robinson’s second interception had been returned for a touchdown by Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley, Alabama held a 235-44 edge in total yards. And 4:31 still remained in the first half.
During the first quarter, the Michigan offense managed three first downs. Alabama answered with three touchdowns. Things rarely improved thereafter for No. 8 Michigan.
The Wolverines were outgained in total yards, 431 to 269, and committed three turnovers. Alabama had no turnovers and kept the electrifying Robinson under wraps as both a passer (11 of 26, with 2 interceptions) and a runner (10 carries, 27 yards).
Robinson, who topped the 1,000-yard mark as a rusher in each of the past two seasons, carried just twice for nine yards in the first half while Alabama seized control. Until connecting with Jeremy Gallon on a 71-yard pass to set up the Wolverines’ second-quarter touchdown, Robinson began the game by completing 4-of-15 passes for 28 yards, with two interceptions.
Hardly the type of big-game production with the contest on the line that inspires further Heisman hype. Robinson did show toughness by returning to the contest after taking a big hit on a failed fourth-down run with 4:25 left in the third quarter.
But by the time the Michigan offense showed a second-half pulse, this one was decided. The Alabama defense made sure of that, with cornerback Dee Milliner (4 breakups, 1 interception) and middle linebacker Trey DePriest (7 tackles) covering lots of ground while the Crimson Tide defensive line dictated the action in the trenches.
“I’m proud of our team. We played with a lot of energy, toughness and were very physical,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban. “This was a really good team win for us. A big win against a very good team.”
Saban praised his offensive line for “dominating the line of scrimmage” and quarterback A.J. McCarron for managing the game efficiently.
Alabama even unleashed a commodity unseen for long stretches during last year’s national title run: a big-play offense. Freshman running back T.J. Yeldon (11 carries, 111 yards, 1 TD) came off the bench and averaged 10.1 yards per carry in his college debut, highlighted by a 40-yard burst that set up a field goal. He also grabbed a 26-yard screen pass on the same drive and scored a fourth-quarter touchdown.
McCarron threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes, including a 51-yarder to DeAndrew White. He averaged 18.1 yards per completion and led three first-half scoring drives of 61, 67 and 61 yards that allowed Alabama to score an early knockout and offer evidence to pollsters that the Tide’s No. 2 ranking, if anything, may be too low. Message sent?
“I personally don’t think we were trying to send any type of message,” McCarron said. “We’re just trying to do what coach Saban preaches. And that’s to go out and play our game.”
Before the contest, McCarron said Saban stressed that this Alabama team “hasn’t done anything yet” and needed to find its identity as a team. That happened Saturday. The Tide, once again, is a legitimate national title contenders.
“We’ve got a lot of things to correct,” said coach Brady Hoke. “We didn’t play Michigan football, and … that is bothersome.”
Alabama, meanwhile, looked very much like the team that won the 2011 national title. Not that Saban was satisfied.
“This team had a challenge of trying to create an identity for itself. We took a step in that direction,” Saban said.
A very big step, based on the dominance of Saturday’s effort.