TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts set a school record for passing yards by a quarterback in a career starting debut, throwing for 287 yards and two touchdowns to lead the top-ranked Crimson Tide football team to a 38-10 victory over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers before a crowd of 101,821 on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium on The University of Alabama campus.
In his first career start at quarterback for the Tide, Hurts completed 23 of 36 attempts for two touchdowns while passing for 287 yards without an interception. In addition to breaking the previous record for passing yards in a starting debut of 285 yards set by Brodie Croyle versus Arkansas on September 28, 2002. Hurts’ performance also surpassed the previous Crimson Tide freshman passing yards mark of 167 yards set by Vince Sutton against Tennessee on October 20, 1984. Hurts connected on three passes of 40 yards or longer while leading a methodical Alabama attack that complemented another outstanding performance by the Tide defense, which posted an interception return for a touchdown for the second consecutive week on a 55-yard return of a pickoff by safety Eddie Jackson in the second quarter.
Tide wide receiver Calvin Ridley’s 129 yards and a touchdown on nine catches led all receivers, while receiver ArDarius Stewart had five catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, including a 52-yarder. Receiver Gehrig Dieter had 56 yards on two catches, including a 40-yarder. Running back Damien Harris rushed for 45 yards on 11 carries to lead the Tide on the ground.
Defensively, Alabama was as stingy as ever, allowing the only touchdown of the season with just 46 seconds remaining after WKU recovered a Tide fumble at the Alabama 26-yard line. The Tide was dominant at the line of scrimmage again, holding the Hilltoppers to 23 yards rushing on 22 attempts, an average of 1.0 yards per rush. Linebacker Reuben Foster recorded a team-best six total tackles, including five solos. Additionally, cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick had five tackles and broke up a pass. As a unit, the Tide defense had four quarterback sacks, five tackles for losses, intercepted two passes, broke up five more passes, forced two fumbles, and was credited with six quarterback hurries.
Punter JK Scott averaged 46.4 yards on five punts, placing three inside the Tide 20 and two traveling more than 50 yards with a long of 58. Placekicker Adam Griffith connected on one of two field goal attempts, making a 36-yarder and missing from 48.
Overall, the Tide gained 475 yards (351 passing and 124 rushing), picked up 23 first downs, and averaged 5.9 yards per play. WKU totaled 239 yards (216 passing and 23 rushing), along with converting 12 first downs and averaging 4.0 yards per play.
For WKU, quarterback Mike White passed for 135 yards while completing 10-of-24 passes with one interception. Reserve Tyler Ferguson completed 7-of-10 for 55 yards and Drew Eckels completed two of three for 26 yards and a touchdown. WKU wide receiver Taywan Taylor caught nine passes for 121 yards, including a 59-yard catch, while Anthony Wales led the Hilltoppers in rushing with 44 yards on 11 carries. WKU punter Jake Collins was outstanding, averaging 47.0 yards on eight punts, including three of more than 50 yards with one downed inside the Tide 20-yard line.
The game began with the Tide defense forcing a WKU punt after three downs. A sack of White by Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson and defensive end Jonathan Allen for a 13-yard loss ended the first WKU possession, forcing a punt from the WKU 17. Alabama marched briskly to the WKU 26 via a 28-yard run by Ridley to the WKU 41, a 10-yard run by Harris to the WKU 31, and two more rushing plays that reached the Hilltopper 26. On third and five from there, a false start-penalty pushed the Tide back five yards. An incomplete pass forced a 48-yard field goal try by Adam Griffith, whose kick was wide to the left and no good to keep it scoreless with 11:52 left in the opening quarter.
The Alabama defense forced another three-and-out by WKU and the Hilltopper punt went out of bounds at the Tide 23 with 11:09 left. Alabama quickly moved 59 yards in five plays, consuming 1 minute, 59 seconds of clock on the way to a field goal. On the first play, Hurts passed deep for Ridley for a 51-yard gain to the WKU 26. Ridley spun in a circle trying to gauge the pass before hauling it in. From there, the Hilltopper defense stiffened and forced a fourth-and-two at the WKU 18 from where Griffith drilled a 36-yard field goal to give the Tide a 3-0 lead with 9:10 left in the first quarter.
From there 21 after the kickoff return, the Hilltoppers responded aggressively as White connected on a deep pass to a wide-open Taywan Taylor at the Tide 20. Tide cornerback Marlon Humphrey forced Taylor to fumble the ball forward to the Tide 9 where Taylor recovered to complete a 70-yard gain. The drive stalled at the Tide 8, concluding with a 25-yard field goal by WKU’s Ryan Nuss to tie the game at 3-3 with 8:03 left in the first quarter.
A 63-yard pass from Hurts to Stewart on the third play of the next possession reached the WKU 1, but a holding penalty on the play erased that gain. Facing first-and-20 from the Tide 26, Hurts was sacked for a 9-yard loss by WKU’s Omarius Bryant at the Tide 17. Two plays later from the Tide 19, Alabama was penalized five yards for a substitution infraction to the Tide 14. On third-and-32, Hurts was flushed from the pocket and sacked on third down for a loss of six yards at the Tide 8. Facing fourth-and-38 from the Tide 8, Alabama punted. WKU returned the punt to the WKU 47. On first down, a deep pass on a flea flicker play resulted in a turnover. WKU receiver Nacarius Fant’s pass along the Tide sideline was underthrown and intercepted by Tide safety Ronnie Harrison at the Tide 27 and returned six yards to the Tide 33.
Alabama regained the lead by moving to a touchdown on a drive covering 67 yards in nine plays. Two plays into the drive, on third-and-7 at the Tide 36, Hurts passed to Ridley for 11 yards and a first down at the Tide 47. A pass from Hurts to Stewart on the next play netted 18 yards and a first down at the WKU 35. Stewart then took a reverse for an 11-yard rush to a first down at the WKU 24. After a false start cost the Tide five yards to set up first-and-15 at the WKU 29, Alabama ended up facing a third-and-10 at the 24, but Hurts connected with tight end O.J. Howard just over the outstretched arms of a defender in the middle of the field for 20 yards and a first down at the WKU 4. On the next play, Hurts passed to Ridley for four yards and a touchdown. With Griffith’s kick the Tide led, 10-3, as the first quarter ended.
Midway through the second period, WKU started a drive at its own 30. On the second play, White passed down the middle of the field where Tide strong safety Eddie Jackson intercepted at the Alabama 45 and returned the ball 55 yards for a touchdown. Griffith’s conversion kick was good, giving Alabama a 17-3 lead with 8:59 left in the first half.
Jackson’s score marked the second consecutive game to start the 2016 season in which the Tide has returned an interception for a score. It also moved to four consecutive games a streak in which Alabama has scored a non-offensive touchdown dating back to last year’s College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic when Cyrus Jones returned a Michigan State punt 57 yards for a touchdown. Kenyan Drake returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score in the Tide’s CFP National Championship Game win over Clemson, then Marlon Humphrey returned an interception 18 yards for a score in the 2016 season opener against USC.
The teams went to the half with the Tide holding that 17-3 edge.
The Tide offense took the ball to open the third quarter and put together a sustained drive that ended in futility. Alabama moved 44 yards in 14 plays eating 5:35 of the clock, but the drive reached only the WKU 40 before the Tide was forced to punt. After forcing another WKU punt on the ensuing possession, Alabama moved 48 yards in eight play to a touchdown. Hurts completed a 15-yard pass to Ridlley for a first down to the WKU 37 and, later in the march, the Tide converted a fourth-and-one situation into a first-and-goal when Harris took a handoff over left tackle for five yards to the WKU eight-yard line. Hurts then found Stewart on a short crossing pattern and Stewart took it in from there for the touchdown. Griffith’s conversion kick was good and Alabama led, 24-3, with 3:48 left in the third quarter.
Alabama extended the lead again on its next offensive series, marching 76 yards in 10 plays in 3:56 to a two-yard touchdown run by running back Bo Scarborough with 13:14 left in the fourth period. Hurts passed to Ridley for eight yards to convert a third down into a first down at the Tide 39, then a 40-yard pass from Hurts to Gehrig Dieter carried to the WKU 7. Three plays later, Scarborough took a handoff at left tackle and went untouched into the end zone for a touchdown, the first of his Alabama career. Griffith’s point-after kick gave the Tide a 31-3 lead.
An 11-play, 59-yard drive later in the fourth period ended on a six-yard touchdown run by freshman running back B.J. Emmons, his first career rushing touchdown at Alabama. Griffith’s kick was good to extend the lead to 38-3 with 4:27 on the clock.
The Hilltoppers broke through late in the game to tack on their only touchdown of the day, and the first touchdown allowed in 2016 by the Alabama defense. With 1:34 remaining, WKU defensive end Nick Dawson-Brents recovered a fumble by the Tide’s Harris at the Alabama 26. Three plays later, quarterback Drew Eckels hit wide receiver Lucky Jackson for 24 yards and a touchdown with 46 seconds left in the game.
Alabama continues its season Saturday, September 17, with its 2016 SEC opener as the Crimson Tide will travel to Oxford, Miss., to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:39 p.m. Central Time at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and the game will be televised by CBS.