TUSCALOOSA _ Overall, it was a pretty good night for the University of Alabama football team.
It dominated a team that physically couldn't compare, the South End Zone expansion of Bryant-Denny Stadium was unveiled and brought in a capacity crowd of 101,812 and perhaps most importantly no one sustained a major injury during the 48-3 drubbing of San Jose State.
So many Crimson Tide players got into the game and made contributions that hardly anyone could tell that 10 players were making their first starts along with five new special-teams players, while nearly no one played more than half the game and even a few players became Crimson Tide cult figures for drilling opponents like junior walk-on Will Lowery did on a kickoff.
Yep, it was that kind of opener. Even Nick Saban had to admit that the new punters and kickers were "better than expected."
"I was really sort of pleased with the effort, the attitude, the intensity, the way our team was ready to play and focused on what they needed to do to try to create an identity for themselves," Saban said. "The togetherness that we played with, the positive energy was good. A lot of guys were trying to be responsible and do their job in the right way, play with discipline, and I was really pleased with those areas."
Granted, the overall team performance was anything from perfect, but the only way San Jose State kept the time of possession close was by letting Alabama frequently score. The No. 1 Crimson tide still tallied 591 total yards compared to 175 allowed, didn't yield a first down in the third quarter and the Spartans completed just eight passes for 86 yards.
Alabama also did so without arguably the best offensive and defensive player who were both watching from the sideline. Junior running back Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, was out due a knee injury while junior defensive end Marcell Dareus was serving a suspension.
"Mark was playing coach tonight," sophomore running back Trent Richardson said, before adding, "and Mark is a better coach than he is football player."
Nevertheless, the Crimson Tide pounded out 257 rushing yards on 41 carries. Richardson got it started with 110 total yards including 66 rushing and notched two touchdowns while all-but refusing to go down like Ingram before sitting the entire second half.
"We really wanted to establish the running game, that's the staple of our team," junior guard Barrett Jones said. "Tonight was the first chapter of that."
Junior Demetrius Goode took 11 handoffs for 66 yards, but redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy had the most noteworthy night, both good and bad. While he grinded out 111 yards on 13 carries (8.5 average) and scored on touchdown runs of 37 and 10 yards, he also coughed up a fumble on first-and-goal from the San Jose State 2.
Senior safety Duke Ihenacho made the hit with junior cornerback Brandon Driver recovering in the end zone with 2:46 remaining in the first quarter. It ended the Tide's string of 22 quarters without an offensive turnover.
"That's not winning football," Saban said.
Meanwhile, the passing game was arguably even more potent. Senior quarterback Greg McElroy completed 13 of 15 passes for 218 yards with a 48-yard touchdown strike to junior Marquis Maze. His two incompletions came on a drop and a poor read, when he tried to force a ball downfield to Julio Jones when Darius Hanks was open.
Jones still finished with six catches for 93 yards, including an incredible one-handed snare of an A.J. McCarron pass in the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown, which he called the best catch of his career.
"In a game, yes," Jones said.
In his game after redshirting last season, McCarron was 9 of 15 for 116 yards. San Jose's lone scoring attempt came on a botched play, when Brandon Rutley scampered through the left side for a 32-yard gain before junior safety Mark Barron could stop him, but also drew a 15-yard face-mask penalty.
That and a 49-yard reception by Noel Brigsby were the only double-digit gains. Freshman linebacker C.J. Mosley ended up leading the Tide with seven tackles, while junior linebacker Chris Jordan had six and junior cornerback DeQuan Menzie made five.
Sophomore free safety Robert Lester made the lone turnover, also in his first start, an interception he returned 15 yards but was hoping to take it the distance.
"I put it in my head that if I was going to touch that ball (the end zone) was going to be mine," Lester said.