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Alabama defenders Lionel Mitchell (16), Darren Mustin (57), Rashad Johnson (49) and Decatur High graduate Rolando McClain (25) stop Western Carolina running back Mike Malone in the first quarter in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Alabama won 52-6.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Alabama defenders Lionel Mitchell (16), Darren Mustin (57), Rashad Johnson (49) and Decatur High graduate Rolando McClain (25) stop Western Carolina running back Mike Malone in the first quarter in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Alabama won 52-6.

Spell Saban with a W
Players welcome new coach with a cakewalk victory

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — About two hours before the game, the coach walked onto the field and a new era began.

Dressed in a jacket and red tie, Nick Saban stared at the several hundred fans cheering in the south end zone. He then looked at the red “A” on the 50-yard line and surveyed his newest palace — Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Almost 51/2 hours later, when the clock struck zero, Saban had cemented his return to college football.

In his first game as Alabama’s coach against Western Carolina, nothing could derail the Crimson Tide in its 52-6 mauling of the Catamounts.

The external buildup behind the game was never whether Saban and his new team would win, but by how much.

The internal buildup inside the team focused on developing an identity, trying to see how much it could improve from its last game, a 34-31 Independence Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.

“It’s not who you play, it’s how you play them,” Saban said. “We are creating an identity as a team by how we perform and how we play.”

There were some early signs that this team’s identity was similar to the 2006 version of the Crimson Tide.

After scoring on the first play from scrimmage, a 47-yard run by running back Terry Grant, Alabama’s defense forced Western Carolina to punt, giving its offense the ball back.

After driving to the Western Carolina 5, a penalty, followed by two incomplete passes, set up kicker Leigh Tiffin, who missed 27-yard field goal attempt.

tide2.jpg - 65911 Bytes
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Tide running back Terry Grant had a big day against a weak Western Carolina defense. Grant finished the game with 134 yards on 18 carries.
Then on the following possession, Western Carolina quarterback Todd Spitzer found wideout Eddie Cohen down field for a 67-yard touchdown strike.

But the play was negated by a holding penalty on wide receiver Marquel Pittman, who grabbed cornerback Lionel Mitchell and threw him to the ground.

From that point on, Alabama appeared to shed the last coating of its 2006 version, and the 2007 version showed, unable to fall for the same mistakes that its predecessors had.

“The coaches kept telling us that we need to be able to overcome situations. We did that today,” said wide receiver DJ Hall, who had four catches for 52 yards. “We aren’t looking toward last year. We are looking forward to getting better.”

Alabama showed an ability to strike quickly and strike often, while the defense held Western Carolina on almost every drive. And a lot of that had to do with Grant.

During preseason practice, Saban said that Grant was going to be a valuable cog in Alabama’s offense, and on Saturday, he provided more than a glimpse of his talent. He showed the whole package.

Along with the first play from scrimmage, Grant scored the last two Alabama touchdowns of the first half. The first, a 1-yard rush, capped a 10-play, 94-yard drive.

The second was a 21-yard run in which Grant found a hole and slipped through Western Carolina’s defense.

With 1:20 remaining in the half the score rested at 21-3.

Tiffin added a 21-yard field goal before the half, and Glen Coffee scored on a 1-yard rush on the Tide’s first drive of the second half to effectively put the game away at 31-3.

Overall, Alabama gained 575 yards of total offense to Western Carolina’s 247.

In his first ever game as a collegian, true freshman linebacker Rolando McClain was — according to Saban — almost flawless in calling the signals as a middle linebacker. He had seven total tackles, one of which was a helmet popper on running back Willie Harper in the first half.

But more than just the overall statistics, Saturday was the emphatic beginning to a new Alabama. A new coach and a team with a different attitude.

“We try to use a lot of talk, a lot of effort and discipline and team chemistry by using intensity and intelligence,” Saban said. “We can combine those to execute a winning football team.”

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