The Tide defense allowed only 275 yards and forced four turnovers while running back Derrick Henry scored 3 touchdowns for the second consecutive game.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The No. 2-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (2-0) opened its 2015 home slate in impressive fashion, forcing four turnovers en route to a 37-10 victory over visiting Middle Tennessee (1-1) in front of 98,568 fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
After a shaky opening quarter by both teams, the Crimson Tide was able to extend a 7-3 lead to a 23-3 halftime margin. Senior quarterback Jake Coker, who had another solid game, hit Robert Foster for a 19-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Derrick Henry added touchdown runs of 1 and 2 yards in the second quarter, and he reached the end zone a third time thanks to a 28-yard burst in the third quarter. Sophomore quarterback Cooper Bateman recorded his first touchdown pass of his career, connecting with Kenyan Drake on a shovel pass for a 14-yard scoring play as well.
Defensively, Alabama recovered all three fumbles it forced while also getting one interception, the most turnovers an Alabama defensive has forced since Sept. 8, 2012, against Western Kentucky. Senior linebacker Reggie Ragland led the team in tackles once again, recording a total of 7.5, including six solos. The secondary also broke up six passes.
For the game, Alabama totaled 532 yards (312 passing and 220 rushing), notched 28 first downs and averaged 6.5 yards per play. Middle Tennessee gained 275 yards (189 passing and 86 rushing), along with collecting 15 first downs and averaging 3.7 yards per play. The Tide limited its penalties on the day, being flagged only five times for 40 yards.
Alabama won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff.
Senior Kenyan Drake took the kick and returned it out to the 43-yard line, giving the Tide good field position for its initial drive of the day, but senior quarterback Jake Coker misfired on his first two passes as the Blue Raiders forced a three-and-out. Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill completed a pass to Christian Collins that nearly picked up a first down on their opening series, but freshman defensive back Marlon Humphrey was able to knock the ball loose and the fumble was recovered by senior and fellow defensive back Geno Matias-Smith at the Blue Raider 32.
After a couple of short gains by the Alabama offense, Coker found senior wide receiver Richard Mullaney along the sidelines for a seven yard gain on third-and-4 to keep the drive alive, then threw a screen to sophomore wide out Robert Foster that he took 19 yards into the end zone. The drive was a brief one, taking just four plays to cover 32 yards in 1:44. Junior Adam Griffith knocked home the extra point and the Tide was off to a quick 7-0 lead.
The up-tempo Blue Raider offense took over at the 25 and put together a solid possession, keeping the Tide defense off-balance with a good mixture of running and passing plays. Stockstill connected with wide receiver Richie James for a couple of first downs, while Jordan Parker ran for another to move Middle Tennessee inside the Alabama 35. On third-and-6 from the 29, Stockstill fumbled the snap, which threw off the timing of the play and forced him to make a hurried throw that fell incomplete. The Blue Raiders’ kicker Cody Clark attempted to get his team on the board with a 46-yard try, but the kick sailed wide right.
Alabama took over at its own 29 and appeared to be poised for another scoring drive. After Henry ran for a first down, Coker hit junior tight end O.J. Howard for 12 more yards and another first down. That play took the Tide across midfield, but the drive stalled there. Alabama elected to go for it on fourth-and-5 instead of punt the ball away, and Coker was pressured and threw the pass over Drake’s head.
The ensuing drive for Middle Tennessee was an extended one that featured a fourth down conversion, but once again resulted in a turnover. Stockstill found Collins again on a third down play, then Shane Tucker picked up 13 yards on a run up the middle. After an illegal formation penalty, Tucker carried the ball on five consecutive plays, including on fourth-and-1, to move deep into Alabama territory. The next series proved costly, however, as coming out of a timeout Tucker took a direct snap on third-and-one, but fumbled. The fumble was forced by senior linebacker Reggie Ragland and recovered by senior defensive lineman Jarran Reed.
Alabama’s offense could not capitalize on this turnover, going in reverse and punting the ball away after a three-and-out. The quarter ended with the score 7-0 in favor of the Tide, but with the Blue Raiders once again on the move.
The second quarter began with another Middle Tennessee conversion on third down, this time Stockstill to Terry Pettis for nine yards on a slant. Three plays later it was third-and-11, and again Stockstill found an open receiver, floating a pass down the field to James for 21 yards to the Alabama 2. The Blue Raiders were turned away from there, losing one yard on a rush and throwing two incomplete passes. A 20-yard field goal by Clark did put Middle Tennessee on the board, capping off the 12-play, 45-yard drive that took just over three minutes.
The Tide got back on track with its next drive. Coker used play action to buy time, eventually connecting with Howard on a 42-yard gain that included Howard breaking a tackle near the sidelines and picking up an extra 10 yards. Henry burst ahead for 12 yards on the next play, then carried the ball on the next three plays for another first down. Alabama went back to the air, with Coker rolling out to his right, but his pass intended for sophomore wide receiver ArDarius Stewart was nearly intercepted in the end zone. A pass interference penalty by the Blue Raiders on third down kept the drive going, and Henry eventually punched it in from two yards out. Griffith added the extra point again, giving the Tide a 14-3 lead following the drive that covered 75 yards in 10 plays.
Stockstill and the Blue Raiders offense took over again, as the quarterback looked to lead his team down the field. After picking up a pair of first downs, Stockstill committed his first costly mistake of the game, putting too much air under a pass that was picked off by senior defensive back Cyrus Jones at the Alabama 30. It did not take the Tide long to capitalize, with Coker executing a quick shovel pass to Drake that he nearly took all the way, just getting tripped up at the 1. Henry took the handoff on the next play, easily crossing the goal line. Alabama extended its lead to 21-3 with 5:54 remaining in the half.
Then the Tide defense put together a dominant series, forcing two incomplete passes and a three-and-out for the first time on the day. However, on the first play from scrimmage for Alabama, Coker overthrew Stewart and the pass was intercepted.
Middle Tennessee took over as its own 1, but could not move the ball far, having to punt the ball away from the 8. Punter Trevor Owens was not able to get the punt off, as freshman Ronnie Harrison blocked it out of the back of the end zone for a safety. Alabama then received great field position off the free kick thanks to a 16-yard return from Mullaney. Coker and the offense were able to put together a successful two-minute drive to end the half, but Griffith pushed the 24-yard attempt to the left on the last play of the half. Alabama went to the locker room with a 23-3 advantage.
On the opening play from scrimmage of the second half, the Blue Raiders committed their fourth turnover of the game when Stockstill completed a short pass to Ed’Marques Batties, who fumbled at the 29. The fumble was forced and recovered by junior defensive back Eddie Jackson.
Sophomore Cooper Bateman came in at quarterback for Alabama’s first drive of the half, but could not lead the offense to a first down. Griffith set up for another field goal attempt, this time from 49 yards out, but it landed short. However, an offensive pass interference call against Middle Tennessee put them well behind the chains on their next possession, as they went three-and-out.
Starting at the Alabama 45, Bateman and Drake teamed up for a touchdown drive. Drake recorded carries of 13 and 9 yards, then Bateman kept the ball and gained four yards. Following a personal foul on the defense, Bateman connected with Drake on a shovel pass that went 14 yards for the score. The Tide was up 30-3 after the drive that covered 55 yards in only four plays.
Middle Tennessee’s offense could not get any momentum going after one first down on its next drive, but Alabama went three-and-out quickly to punt the ball right back to the Blue Raiders. Once again Middle Tennessee had no trouble getting a drive going, collecting two first downs, but struggled to sustain the drive, eventually having to punt after an incompletion on third down.
After being pinned back inside the 5 following the punt, Bateman orchestrated a touchdown drive of 95 yards. Bateman hit Howard and freshman wide receiver Calvin Ridley during the possession, while Henry had seven carries, including finishing the drive off with a 28-yard rush to the outside for his third touchdown of the game. That extended the lead to 37-3 with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter, and that would be the score going into the final quarter of play.
The teams traded three-and-outs to begin the fourth quarter. Alabama moved the ball for a couple of first downs on its next offensive possession, but could not convert on a third-and-1 from just across midfield and was forced to punt again. The Blue Raiders failed to pick up a first down yet again, and after Owens booted a 45-yard kick, Mullaney returned it 21 yards to the Middle Tennessee 45.
Bateman got the drive started by connecting with senior tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith for 31 yards, but two plays later Bateman’s pass was intercepted by the Blue Raiders’ Jeremy Curter. Curter returned it 77 yards to the Alabama 20. Finally recording a takeaway of its own, Middle Tennessee capitalized. Backup quarterback Austin Grammer came in and kept the ball twice for a total of five yards. Then, on third-and-5 from the 15, he found receiver Rod Ducksworth open in the end zone for the team’s lone touchdown of the game.
Alabama got the ball back and effectively ran out the remaining 5:21 off the clock. Junior quarterback Alec Morris came in for the final four offensive plays of the game for the Tide.
Saban improved to a perfect 9-0 in home openers as the head coach of Alabama.