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September 19, 2009

Alabama reigns over North Texas, 53-7

TUSCALOOSA _ It actually did rain Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Not so much in terms of weather, although ominous storm clouds threatened to unload and came through only before and after Bryant-Denny Stadium was filled (at least officially).

It did, though, in the football sense with the University of Alabama's game against North Texas the equivalent of a deluge. The No 4 Crimson Tide was relentless in pounding out a one-sided 53-7 victory, trying the mark for the most lopsided win since Nick Saban's first game here in 2007 (Western Carolina 52-6).

"Our goal was to dominate for sixty minutes," said junior quarterback Greg McElroy, who completed 13 of 15 passes for 176 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and in the process tied the school record for best completion percentage in a single game with a minimum of 10 completions (86.7 percent, Walter Lewis, 1983 vs. Ole Miss, and Danny Woodson, 1991 vs. Vanderbilt).

Physically, the game was no contest, especially with the Mean Green missing both quarterback Riley Dodge and left tackle Victor Gill due to shoulder injuries, and head coach Todd Dodge set modest goals of no turnovers, no sacks and no injuries. In that aspect alone, North Texas (1-2) was successful.

Alabama's three-pronged backfield of sophomore Mark Ingram, freshman Trent Richardson and junior Terry Grant combined for 257 rushing yards on 38 carries, and McElroy got into the act a bit by running in one of the Tide's five rushing touchdowns.

"It's a real good feeling when all the backs have success like that in a game," said Ingram, who went over the 1,000-yard mark in career rushing (1,025) and hasn't fumbled in 187 carries.

The Tide poured it on just as effectively in the air with 11 different players catching passes and backup redshirt freshman quarterback Star Jackson seeing his first extended action -- not only with the numerous other reserves who got into the game, but he ran the two-minute offense just before halftime with the first unit.

"I think that goes a long way for his confidence and his management of the game," said McElroy, who since his string of nine attempts without a completion against Virginia Tech has gone 44-for-57 (77.2 percent) for 598 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

He also answered the one concern from last week, when his 14 straight completions set a Tide record even though none of his three third-down passes during the streak moved the markers. Alabama converted 10 of 14 third-down opportunities Saturday, including Ingram turning a short catch into a 29-yard touchdown.

McElroy's first touchdown pass came in the first quarter, when sophomore Marquis Maze got a step on safety Ira Smith and caught the ball in-step for the 34-yard score and early 14-0 lead.

"Any time you have guys like we have on the outside, working one-on-one, with a solid running game, we can use that to our advantage," McElroy said.

The defense was just as imposing, and balanced, with reserve linebacker Chris Jordan leading the team with six tackles. With senior nose guard Terrence Cody leading the effort up the middle with five tackles, the Mean Green averaged just 2.3 yards per carry, and 3.8 per play. The one major gaffe was blown coverage by the second unit, resulting in a 34-yard touchdown reception by sophomore running back Lance Dunbar late in the third quarter.

"Dominate," Cody said.

Even special teams were mostly a mismatch, minus two blown extra-point attempts and a kickoff coverage breakdown that was nullified by a North Texas penalty. When the Mean Green kicked to him, senior Javier Arenas proved to be just as elusive as the running backs, with a 49-yard kick return to go with four punt returns for 90 yards (22.5 average).

"The most important thing was consistency," Arenas said. "I think we did some good things. Obviously we didn't do some things as well.

"For instance, me, when I dropped that ball back there (on an early return), there was no other effect, just me not focusing on the ball. It forced me to play better throughout the rest of the game."

The offense had a similar fate, with McElroy looking downfield, getting caught from the blind side and losing the ball, a play that was reviewed but not overturned.

"It kind of shook me up a little bit, nothing too traumatic," McElroy said. "I think I was the only guy who realized it was a fumble so I tried to get on it."

Of course, he went on help lead a 523-yard performance, and Alabama was seven-for-seven in the red zone even though the Jackson-led offense did have to settle for a couple of field goals. That was the real benefit of Saturday, all the players who grew a little more accustomed to their roles, starters and reserves alike, just before the start of the Southeastern Conference schedule next Saturday against Arkansas.

"In my opinion I started out shaky," said sophomore safety Mark Barron, who made five tackles and broke up two passes. "Sometimes I didn't get the call, I didn't know the signals as I should have, but now I'm getting a little more into it. I'm just getting more comfortable."

In that respect, Alabama (3-0) didn't rain Saturday. It reigned.

"Until today, I wondered, was this team really going to fulfill its full potential?" Coach Nick Saban said. "Are they going to be responsible for their potential? I wasn't just pleased with the lack of consistency we played with in the first two games. We played really well at times and at other times we didn't, but I feel like we were much more solid today and we made some improvement."


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