- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When you're the University of Alabama, you pay for a weekend of relief. The Crimson Tide spent $475,000 for the pleasure, and Western Carolina was happy to oblige.
Mark Speir sent his Catamounts out for a 60-minute beating on Saturday and got help with his program's bottom line for the trouble.
Alabama got exactly what it needed in return: a cupcake after an unsavory week of disappointment.
No. 4 Alabama dominated Western Carolina 49-0 in Tuscaloosa, the outcome as predictable as it was laughable. Quarterback AJ McCarron was pulled after playing pitch-and-catch with his receivers for a quarter and a half. Eddie Lacy watched the final 30 minutes after scoring three first-half touchdowns. The defense was practically tailgating in the Western Carolina backfield, picking up tackles for loss like empty cans of soda.
"We responded the right way," said UA center Barrett Jones, who helped his team gain 460 total yards of offense. "Obviously things didn't go the way we wanted to last week. This week the emphasis was to get back to playing our style of football. We weren't affected by our opponent, and we came out and we played the way we wanted to."
The scene in Bryant-Denny Stadium was of stark contrast to a week ago when Alabama watched its waltz to the national championship get derailed by Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel. There were missed tackles, blown assignments and a general lack of execution.
The Crimson Tide were mentally and physically fatigued after the loss, the result of back-to-back-to-back games against top 25 teams Mississippi State, LSU and Texas A&M.
"That's SEC football," UA defensive end Damion Square said. "That's what we do here. You come to Alabama to play stretches like that so you can't complain about how tough those teams were to play week in and week out. You just have to perform."
Square wouldn't make an excuse, and neither would his head coach, Nick Saban. Saban did, however, say what everyone else was thinking, noting after the loss to Texas A&M that his team was "out of gas" and in need of reboot. Against Western Carolina, they got just that. The offense was back clicking on all cylinders, the defense playing the kind of fundamental football that had been missing in previous weeks.
"I was pleased with the way our guys competed in the game today," Saban said. "I think we went out there and tried to play to a standard and executed fairly well. There are always things that you can clean up, no question. The Western Carolina guys played hard. They were a little bit outmanned. Our guys played the way we wanted to play. We improved as a team and had a good week of practice. Everything is ahead of us as a team."
Alabama will host Auburn next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT. With a win, the Crimson Tide would secure the SEC West and a trip to the league championship to face No. 5 Georgia.
Jones said the game will be about more than the division title, though. It will be about "all our hopes and dreams," he said, and, of course, it will be about beating Auburn.
"It doesn't matter what Auburn's record, who Auburn's coach is, they're always going to be ready," he said.
UA defensive back Vinnie Sunseri said he planned to break the 24-hour rule and get a jump start on the Iron Bowl. Rather than have the day to celebrate the win, he was ready to move on to the next game immediately.
But at least for Saturday night, Sunseri had plans.
Alabama experienced a loss last season and still found a way to make it to the national championship. The Tide are hopeful history can repeat itself.
"I'm going to watch football," Sunseri said. "I am the biggest Baylor fan, the biggest everybody fan, but we've got to take care of what we've got to do. If we do that, then I think everything will fall into place. We've just got to keep playing."