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September 12, 2010TUSCALOOSA _ It was fitting that there was an old-school feel to Saturday because the University of Alabama football team tried to knock Joe Paterno and visiting Penn State back to the stone age.
At least that's the way it came across for much of the first half. After pounding and passing its way past the Nittany Lions early on, and yielding nearly nothing defensively, the Crimson Tide ended up settling for a 24-3 victory, but still made its point.
Yes, the reigning national champion is still the team to beat.
"They came in with a smash-mouth football mentality, and we had to affect to will to win and we did that early in the game," sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "The second or third quarter they were kind of doing things they aren't known to do, some gimmick plays and throwing the ball a little bit more."
No. 18 Penn State, Paterno, gimmicky?
Considering how commanding the Crimson Tide (2-0) came out, and how many different looks it showed the Nittany Lions during a steamy Southern night, they really didn't have much choice.
Penn State's leading rusher had a paltry 32 yards. The offense turned the ball over four times, twice inside the 20. It failed to reach the end zone.
"I was pleased with the toughness our guys played with," Coach Nick Saban said. "I think we went out there with the right attitude, but I think we need to have a little better discipline and execution and some of that is going to come from experience and knowledge."
Early on it appeared that Alabama could have dictated whatever score it wanted, which made the 17-0 halftime lead remarkable in that it was that close.
Consider the opening possessions: After a penalty backed Alabama back to its own 9 it had to scratch the original plan of coming out throwing and instead keyed up sophomore running back Trent Richardson for some good old-fashioned grind-it-out football.
You know, the kind Penn State prides itself on.
Although the drive stalled, it set the tone, and the guy who was held back after squatting 610 pounds when he first arrived on the Capstone, showed that he can carry the team on his back: 144 rushing yards on 22 carries including a 1-yard touchdown run, four catches for 46 yards and 207 all-purpose yards.
"Fantastic game," Saban said.
"Trent, can't say enough about that guy," sophomore guard Barrett Jones said. "Have you ever seen anyone run as hard as he does? The passion with which he runs, you see that as an offensive lineman and you want to even work harder for the guy.
"You give him an inch and next thing you know he squirts out of there. Great back."
Although Penn State (1-1) had played 17 straight games without having allowed an opposing running back to reach 100 yards, he had 92 after the first quarter.
"That was a big goal for our offense," Richardson said.
But that was just the beginning. While showing that last week's game-plan was more vanilla than the Nittany Lions' road uniforms, the Tide subsequently came out five wide, four wide receivers with Richardson out of the backfield, and promptly went 68 yards on five plays.
"It's very school-yard. I like that," senior quarterback Greg McElroy said of the contrasting look. He completed 16 of 24 passes for 229 yards went over the 3,000 career mark.
"I feel like we can line up in anything," wide receiver Darius Hanks said. "We have the wildcat, the spread, we can hit you from all angles."
Freshman receiver Kevin Norwood opened the scoring on a 36-yard reception and when he unnecessarily somersaulted into the end zone had his first career catch, touchdown and public chewing out by Saban all at once.
It was, however, just one of many firsts, including players like defensive tackle Kerry Murphy, linebacker Ed Stinson and cornerback DeMarcus Milliner making their first starts, walk-on junior safety Will Lowery nabbed his first interception and senior tight end Preston Dial finally scored his first touchdown. His 14-yard catch came on the first play of the second quarter, when McElroy read a blitz that Penn State hadn't shown yet this season and called for a protection shift.
"We have an offensive team that can beat you in several different ways," said Saban, which will make it extremely difficult for opposing defenses to prepare for everything.
Same goes for the defense, which showed numerous looks to try and get true freshman quarterback Rob Bolden off-balance and then really turned up the heat in the red zone. Six times he was hurried by a lineman, usually without the benefit of a blitz, with Stinson notching two to go with his team-high nine tackles.
"We knew he would probably make mistakes if we put pressure on him," said junior safety Mark Barron, who had an interception, forced fumble, pass broken up and six tackles.
All this without suspended defensive end Marcell Dareus (suspension) or Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram (knee), who are both expected to play next week at Duke, and on what would have been Paul W. "Bear" Bryant's 97th birthday.
"Alabama deserved to win it," Paterno conceded. "They were the better football team today."