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September 12, 2009TUSCALOOSA | It was a night that if one wasn't closely paying attention to the University of Alabama's football game against Florida International, there was a lot that could have been missed.
That big wide receiver having a 100-yard performance, his name wasn't sophomore Julio Jones, who sustained a bruised knee early on and was sidelined the rest of the night.
The running back doing the same on the ground was not sophomore Mark Ingram, who missed significant practice time this past week with the flu.
And the guy who put himself into the Crimson Tide record book? He was making just his second start.
"We're happy with the win, but it wasn't up to our standard," junior wide receiver Earl Alexander said after the 40-14 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium, primarily due to the Panthers (0-1) accumulating 213 passing yards and actually having a 14-13 lead in the second quarter.
Consequently, there were moments in the first half that it appeared it could be a long night for the No. 4 Tide (2-0), especially after Jones and senior Roy Upchurch (sprained ankle), who was making his first career start, were sidelined with injuries and did not return.
Yet there was no feeling of panic, even after T.Y Hilton returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, the Tide's second allowed in two weeks.
"There was no talk about it," senior tight end Colin Peek said. "It's kind of funny, I didn't even realize Julio was out until I looked over and saw ice on his knee.
"You have to just keep playing."
The first guy to step up was junior wide receiver Mike McCoy, who after 18 career starts was bypassed on the depth chart, only to do a dead-on impersonation of Jones while running many of his routes.
He finished with 100 yards on five catches
and scored a 24-yard touchdown. Previously, McElroy's career best was 47 yards against Georgia in 2007.
"He was phenomenal," Peek said.
Those five catches, all in the first half, helped junior quarterback Greg McElroy enjoy a stretch of 14 straight completions to set the Tide record, snapping the mark of 12 by John Parker Wilson (over two games, at Tennessee and vs. Arkansas State) last season and Andrew Zow (Ole Miss) in 2000.
"Outstanding," Saban said.
McElroy completed 18 of 24 passes for 241 yards and had one touchdown. Nine different players caught passes while Alabama didn't have any turnovers.
"I was really pleased with that and I'm happy to have the record, especially with all the great quarterbacks who have been here," McElroy said. "The sky's the limit with this offense. I think we're still just scratching the surface."
Finally, in the second half, it was true freshman Trent Richardson's turn. The running back who was inserted early after Upchurch's departure, took 15 handoffs for 118 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Ingram had 103 yards, 56 rushing and 47 receiving on four catches, and junior Terry Grant came off the bench to tally 69 rushing yards on six carries to help put FIU away. Overall, the Tide finished with 275 rushing yards, and 516 overall.
"I thought Trent played real well," McElroy said. "With Mark battling the flu this week, we knew some other guys would have to step up."
Others did so defensively too, although they were more predictable. With sophomore Marcell Dareus making two of the Tide's five sacks, and junior linebacker Rolando McClain accumulating 10 tackles, Alabama pounded quarterback Paul McCall, especially in the second half, and had nine hurries.
"I really wasn't happy with the energy and enthusiasm our team came up with and played with in the first half," said Saban, noting that the no-huddle seemed to affect the Tide with FIU able to convert 5 of 8 third-down opportunities.
So Alabama switched to more zone coverage in the second half, making it harder for FIU to pass down field.
"Most of what we did today was with a four-man rush, which is good because if you can affect the quarterback with a four-man rush you're going to be able to play more effective pass defense and probably not give up as many plays," Saban said.
"I'm really pleased with the improvement we've made in pass rush."
FIU finished with just one rushing yard, while Alabama pounded out 275.
"Doesn't surprise me at all," senior guard Mike Johnson said. "Marcell Dareus was supposed to be second string and you saw what he did and what kind of depth they have."