TUSCALOOSA — Saturday’s 40-7 win over Florida Atlantic didn’t look like the perfect game, and Alabama coach Nick Saban is more than willing to go down the list of ways his No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide messed up.
Alabama settled for four field goals when touchdowns would’ve been better. The Tide lost the turnover battle 1-0. The passing game produced 247 yards, but Saban thought it could’ve been cleaner.
All that matters to Saban, which means it matters to his players. But on this day, the Crimson Tide coach wasn’t unhappy, and that doesn’t happen every week. Despite facing an overwhelmed opponent that entered as a 49-point underdog, Alabama prepared and played the way Saban wanted.
“I was really much more pleased with the way our team approached this game, the way they actually played in the game in terms of the kind of intensity that we played with, the sense of urgency, the discipline that we had,” he said.
Saban didn’t like how his team needed a quarter to get revved up last week against Arkansas, but against FAU, Alabama started swiftly. The first drive ended AJ McCarron’s 85-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Bell, who took a short throw and ran a long way. On the second drive, McCarron tossed a 4-yard scoring pass to DeAndrew White. Alabama led 14-0 after a quarter and never had to worry about whether it would win the game.
McCarron quarterbacked the first seven drives, and Alabama (4-0) scored on all of them — three touchdowns on his passes, two Jeremy Shelley short field goals and two Cade Foster long 3-pointers. The final Tide touchdown came on freshman Kenyan Drake’s 8-yard run, which is his third straight game with a score.
The Tide defense didn’t give up a first down for the first 25 minutes of the game. Alabama allowed Florida Atlantic (1-3) to gain only 110 yards, and 75 of that came on a late touchdown drive against the Tide’s deep reserves.
“We had a great week of practice and had the right intensity, the right mindset. We carried that into the game. Two weeks ago, against Western Kentucky, we didn’t do that,” said Alabama senior linebacker Nico Johnson, a key contributor to the 2009 and ‘11 national champions.
FAU coach Carl Pelini didn’t need any convincing about Alabama’s desire to show it cared about getting better.
“They are as physical a team as there is out there,” Pelini said. “We saw it on film, and it translated today. They’re a great football team, that’s for sure.”
Even the Owls’ lone touchdown didn’t bother Saban that much. FAU marched from its own 25 and held the ball 15 plays before Graham Wilbert found Alex DeLeon for a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Saban said the Tide reserves who were in the game at the time showed more fight than they did the previous week when they got to play against Arkansas. He even liked how the starters stood on the sideline cheering encouragement to the reserves, although he admitted they probably were so involved partly because they wanted the shutout.
“All in all, I was really pleased with our approach,” Saban said. “We have got a lot of good conference games coming up, so we need to still focus on improving and doing things that we need to do to make our team better, get more players in a position to play winning football to contribute to that, but all in all I thought the approach was good today.”