Daily photos by Brennen Smith|
Alabama freshman linebacker Rolando McClain (25) from Decatur pressures Vanderbilt quarterback Mackenzi Adams in the third quarter of the Tide’s 24-10 victory in Nashville on Saturday. McClain finished the day with six tackles and a sack.
Tide hurts Vandy
Saban passes first SEC test
By Josh Cooper
NASHVILLE — Playing at a school better known for academic exploits than athletic prowess, Alabama gave Vanderbilt a lesson in toughness — and then some.
The Crimson Tide pummeled Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson and knocked around All-SEC wide receiver Earl Bennett, giving Alabama coach Nick Saban a successful return to Southeastern Conference play in a 24-10 win.
“I felt we played with a lot of conviction in the game and a lot of toughness,” Saban said. “We came up here and tried to dominate them physically. That’s something that was important to us. That’s the identity we want to create.”
Since Saban was introduced as Alabama’s coach Jan. 4, he has talked about his “process.” And with a game against the 2006 SEC West champion Arkansas in one week, the Crimson Tide has passed Saban’s tests, dominating Western Carolina in the first game and then bashing Vanderbilt in the second.
It didn’t take long for the Tide to make its bruising statement Saturday.
On Vanderbilt’s second play from scrimmage, Alabama sent Nickson scrambling out of the pocket, and then Tide linebackers Darren Mustin and Rolando McClain, a freshman from Decatur, nailed him.
Nickson got hurt on the play — he said later he pulled his hamstring — and Alabama kept pouring the pressure on the Pike County High graduate.
“That was a big hit. He didn’t know it was coming,” Alabama defensive tackle Lorenzo Washington said. “I know you could sense he just didn’t want to take off running because he knew someone was coming for him every time.”
Nickson’s injured leg prevented him from running when his blocking collapsed, which it did often. Also, he had trouble finding his favorite target, Bennett, because of a myriad of coverages that Alabama used to blanket the Birmingham native.
Alabama wide receiver DJ Hall and his teammates had plenty to smile about after the Crimson Tide manhandled Vanderbilt 24-10 in Nashville on Saturday afternoon.
Bennett had four catches for 52 yards and injured his ankle in the second half.
Nickson completed 5 of 18 passes for 67 yards with an interception. Mackenzi Adams replaced him early in the third period and led a touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter. He found George Smith for a 15-yard scoring pass after Alabama had completed all of its scoring.
Meanwhile, Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson and the offense put up enough points to keep the Tide in control.
A 69-yard punt return by Javier Arenas set up Terry Grant’s 1-yard touchdown run on the following play, putting Alabama ahead 7-0 early in the opening quarter.
After that, the Crimson Tide got three field goals from Leigh Tiffin in the first and second quarters, but Alabama might’ve had more points.
The Crimson Tide drove to the Vanderbilt 8 and had first down, but had to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Tiffin.
An open DJ Hall dropped for-sure first-down grab on a third-and-seven play in the first quarter, and Alabama couldn’t put together any long drives to put the ball in the end zone.
In the second quarter, Alabama used a 12-play, 50-yard drive — which got the Tide down to the Vanderbilt 16-yard line — to score a 40-yard field goal from Tiffin.
Then at the end of the half, Alabama drove to the Vanderbilt 11, benefiting from two 15-yard penalties on the Commodores for grabbing the facemask and having too many men on the field. Still, two plays netted no yards, and Alabama had to settle for a 29-yard field goal from Tiffin on the last play before intermission.
“We had some opportunities to finish things in the red zone and didn’t do it,” Saban said.
In the second half, Alabama turned to Grant, who finished with 173 rushing yards on 24 carries.
The redshirt freshman gained 53 yards in the first half, but said that Saban chewed him out at halftime, telling him he needed to break out of an apparent 30-minute funk and look more like the running back who had 134 yards the previous week.
“Coach Saban kind of ripped me up a little bit and got me going. I don’t think I can say on this,” Grant said, pointing to a reporter’s audio recorder, “what he said to me, but he got me going, though.”
Saban’s words apparently help spur a 10-play, 86-yard drive in the fourth quarter that saw Grant carry the ball nine times, including the 2-yard punch-in to bring the score to 22-3 with 14:19 remaining in the game. Nick Walker caught a 2-point pass from Wilson to complete the scoring.
“They started to get a little bit tired, and we saw Terry was running the ball a little bit better,” Tide center Antoine Caldwell said. “It was a key situation for us in the game. We knew we had to put the ball on the ground and run the clock.”
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