Crimson Tide eye up Owls in home opener

Published 09/03 2014 11:41AM

Updated 09/03 2014 11:41AM

Tuscaloosa, AL ( - The second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will return to Tuscaloosa for their home opener at Bryant-Denney Stadium on Saturday afternoon against the Florida Atlantic Owls.

Admirably, FAU has stacked its non-conference schedule with difficult contests, but it proved in its opener to be thoroughly outmatched by Nebraska, as it fell on the wrong end of a 55-7 decision to the 22nd-ranked team in the nation.

Alabama opened up its season on a neutral field in Atlanta against West Virginia as part of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, and while it wasn't a performance as dominant as the No. 2 team has become accustomed to in recent years, it still came away with a 33-23 victory.

"I think there's definitely a lot of things we can improve on," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "I also think there's a lot of things we did well as a team...I think that's what you find out when you play a first game."

Alabama defeated FAU in the only previous meeting back in 2012, 40-7 in Tuscaloosa.

FAU could hardly get anything going offensively against Nebraska in the opener, as it amassed a mere 200 total yards and converted only 13 first downs.

The passing attack was especially troublesome. Jaquez Johnson totaled just 80 yards (61 passing, 19 rushing) while completing 6-of-12 passes, although he did account for the team's only touchdown when he hooked up with Luck Whitehead on a 20-yard scoring strike in the first quarter. Greg Hankerson played the second half under center but performed even worse (5-of-18, 34 yards).

Jay Warren impressed out of the backfield, turning 14 carries into 77 yards, but it was difficult for the team to get him into a rhythm trailing by so much.

Whitehead paced the receiving corps with five receptions for 40 yards.

Despite the poor showing, head coach Charlie Partridge is remaining optimistic in regards to the offense.

"There were times it looked like we had a powerful offense and times it looked like we needed to improve," Partridge said. "We just need to continue to get better as a fundamental football team."

The Owls' defense had absolutely no answer for the Cornhuskers, as they allowed an astonishing 784 yards (including 498 yards on the ground) on 92 plays, both school records for Nebraska.

Damian Parms, Andrae Kirk and Robert Relf were all busy with nine tackles apiece.

Alabama's offense was in top form in the win over WVU, churning out 538 yards, converting 9-of-15 third down attempts and owning nearly 38 minutes of possession.

Blake Sims came out on top of a highly-publicized quarterback battle in training camp with transfer Jacob Coker, and he proved his worth in the opener by managing the offense efficiently, completing 24-of-33 passes for 250 yards while adding 42 rushing yards.

Taking pressure off of Sims in his debut was the Tide's prolific running back duo, who went a long way in sewing up the time of possession battle. T.J. Yeldon carried the ball 23 times for 126 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Derrick Henry was equally effective with 113 yards and a score on 17 attempts.

"We're going to keep working and learning," Henry said. "T.J. played hard and ran hard today. Our game plan was to play physically."

Sims' most trusted target out wide was Amari Cooper, who finished with 12 receptions (one shy of the school record) for 130 yards for his eighth-career 100-yard receiving game.

Defensively, Alabama did not live up to its lofty standards as one of the most stout units in the country, as it allowed 393 yards without forcing a turnover.

"We didn't respond very well to not having the kind of leadership out there with two new guys who never started a game before playing at linebacker," Saban said. "We didn't play the gap fits very well on the runs. We didn't execute the pressures like we were supposed to, and we had a lot of mental errors."

Landon Collins paced the squad with 11 tackles, although it's never a great sign when a defensive back leads the team in stops. Xzavier Dickson came up with a pair of crucial sacks to help derail some of WVU's momentum.

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