8:00 PM ET, September 1, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Alabama coach Nick Saban believes his latest talented and tenacious team took a step toward creating its own identity.
Though it felt a lot like the 2011 Crimson Tide never left on Saturday night at Dallas Cowboys Stadium.
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Dee Milliner and Alabama defense pushed around Michigan and showed they can still dominate, manhandling the eighth-ranked Wolverines and pounding Denard Robinson in a season-opening 41-14 victory Saturday night.
Alabama had to replace most of its starters, including three first-round draft picks, from a defense that led the nation in just about everything last year and helped the Tide win its second national title in three seasons.
"I think we came out in the first game and established the kind of identity we're going to have on this team," Milliner said. "On defense, we were aggressive. On offense, we came out and attacked."
C.J. Mosley returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown for the second-ranked Tide. AJ McCarron, no longer with third overall draft pick Trent Richardson to hand the ball off to, threw two touchdowns as Alabama won its 11th consecutive season opener.
"I personally don't think we were trying to send any type of message," McCarron said. "We're just trying to do what coach (Saban) preaches. And that's to go out and play our game. Do what we're supposed to do."
Milliner, the primary nickelback last season now in a starting role, deflected four passes in the first half, and had an interception after shoving intended receiver Roy Roundtree to the ground and into the Alabama sideline. That set up a touchdown for the Crimson Tide, which shot out to a 31-0 lead.
While Michigan still can recover to contend for a Big Ten title and possible Rose Bowl bid, this could be a confidence-shaking performance. The most lopsided season-opening loss certainly wasn't what Michigan expected coming off an 11-win season under first-year coach Brady Hoke that ended with the Wolverines' first BCS victory since the 1999 season.
"Obviously, we didn't play Michigan football, and that's something that bothers our team, bothers the coaches," Hoke said. "Win or lose your first game, you learn a lot."
Unfortunately for Hoke and the Wolverines, this is Alabama -- still at its very best.
Even Saban was applauding the performance as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"This team had a challenge of trying to create an identity for itself," Saban said. "That happens over time and happens with consistency in performance. It's a big win over a very good team."
It was a tough night for Robinson, even though he accounted for both Michigan touchdowns. Most of his 200 yards passing (he was 11 of 26) came on two plays -- a 71-yard pass right before halftime that came before his 6-yard TD run and his 44-yard scoring pass to Devin Gardner in the third quarter.
"I didn't make the throws that I should have made today and I feel that I didn't play as the Michigan quarterback today," Robinson said. "I've got to step it up and be more accountable."
Robinson, held to 27 yards rushing on 10 carries, showed his toughness when he didn't miss a snap immediately after being hurt on a fourth-down run in the third quarter.
The Heisman hopeful got hurt when he stretched and landed awkwardly trying to lunge for a first down on fourth-and-3. He appeared to reach for his lower back while on the ground, where he remained for several minutes before being helped up and then walking gingerly off the field.
Officials first marked Robinson's run as first down. But while Robinson was being tended to, the play was reviewed and it was determined that his elbow came down short of the first down. But he was back in the Michigan huddle after Cade Foster kicked a 51-yard field goal.
After Alabama went three-and-out on the opening drive of the game, and its defense quickly set the tone with Milliner knocking down two passes on Michigan's first possession, the Crimson Tide got rolling.
McCarron faked a handoff to perfection, after Lacy and Yeldon had carried the ball down the field, and tossed a 2-yard TD pass to Michael Williams for a 7-0 lead.
Robinson overthrew two receivers before another Michigan punt, and McCarron hit DeAndrew White in stride streaking down the sideline for a 51-yard score. Cornerback Courtney Avery, in after starter Blake Countless sustained an early knee injury, slipped down on the play.
Then came Milliner's big shove that he got away with for a big play. With Roundtree on the ground and the ball in the air, Milliner caught the ball near midfield and returned it to the Michigan 17. Robinson helped make a touchdown-saving tackle, and appeared to grab his right shoulder then.
"I got a good jam," Milliner explained. "When I looked up, the ball was coming and I made a play on it."
Lacy, limited coming off an ankle sprain, broke two tackles on a hard-charging score that made it 21-0, still in the first quarter.
When Jeremy Shelley's 22-yard field goal made it 24-0 with 10 minutes left in the first half, the Crimson Tide had 233 total yards -- 199 more than Michigan. It was 31-0 after Robinson inexplicably threw a pass right into Mosley's chest.
Alabama finished with 431 total yards, and Michigan had 269.
The crowd of 90,413 was the largest ever to see a college game at Cowboys Stadium, where the crowd was distinctly split by fans in crimson and those in maize.
At the end, the Alabama fans were chanting "S-E-C!, S-E-C!" and "Roll Tide!"
"It's a deflating loss, it should sting," Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs said. "But at the end of the day, you can't let Alabama beat you twice."
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Alabama running back Eddie Lacy's 9-yard TD made it 21-0 with 1:24 left in the first quarter.
Gameball goes to... Alabama DC Kirby Smart, who called a near-perfect game against Michigan.
Stat of the game... 41. Bama scored 41. Michigan didn't give up more than 40 points in any game last season.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||3-12||3-10|
|4th Down Conversions||0-1||0-0|
|TD||06:56||Michael Williams 2 Yd Pass From AJ McCarron (Jeremy Shelley Kick)||0||7|
|TD||04:59||DeAndrew White 51 Yd Pass From AJ McCarron (Jeremy Shelley Kick)||0||14|
|TD||01:24||Eddie Lacy 9 Yd Run (Jeremy Shelley Kick)||0||21|
|FG||09:53||Jeremy Shelley 22 Yd||0||24|
|TD||04:31||C.J. Mosley 16 Yd Interception Return (Jeremy Shelley Kick)||0||31|
|TD||02:20||Denard Robinson 6 Yd Run (Brendan Gibbons Kick)||7||31|
|FG||02:34||Cade Foster 51 Yd||7||34|
|TD||00:14||Devin Gardner 44 Yd Pass From Denard Robinson (Brendan Gibbons Kick)||14||34|
|TD||05:32||T.J. Yeldon 1 Yd Run (Jeremy Shelley Kick)||14||41|
Denard Robinson was 3-of-14 with a touchdown and two interceptions on passes that traveled 15 yards or more in the air Saturday against Alabama. Robinson could not find the range on these throws early in the game. He missed his first nine attempts and had two interceptions. Michigan was trailing by 31 points when Robinson finally connected. His 14 attempts was one shy of his career high, set in against Notre Dame last season. Robinson's three completions on throws that traveled 15 yards or more matches the combined total of Alabama's final six opponents of last season. It was also the most allowed by the Tide since Cam Newton had three in the 2010 Iron Bowl.[+]
Denard Robinson Throws of 15+ Yards
Michigan was 1-of-6 passing with an interception and a sack on its third-down passing plays Saturday against Alabama. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that Alabama did not allow a passing first down on third down, including both games against LSU. During those nine games, the Tide have more sacks on third down and the same number of interceptions as their opponents have passing first downs.[+]
Alabama 3rd Down Passing Defense
AJ McCarron was 6-of-9 for 123 yards and two touchdowns when throwing off play action Saturday against Michigan. McCarron has completed at least 60 percent of his passes off play action in five straight games. The last time he was under 60 percent was in the loss to LSU on Nov. 5 last season.[+]
AJ McCarron Play-Action Passing
Alabama ran for 232 yards on 42 carries Saturday against Michigan. The Tide are now 40-0 since the start of the 2008 season when they run for at least 150 yards. The offensive line was the key. Alabama's running backs were only hit in the backfield on four of their 38 runs, and on 13 runs, they were not hit until at least five yards past the line of scrimmage.[+]
Alabama Designed Running Plays
Alabama led 31-0 before winning 41-14. The 27-point loss for the Wolverines is the worst loss in a season-opener in the 133 years of Michigan football.[+]
Worst Season-Opening Losses - Michigan History
The 27-point loss for the Wolverines is the worst loss in a season-opener in the 133 years of Michigan football.[+]
Worst Season-Opening Losses
Over the past 2 seasons, Denard Robinson led FBS with 102 rushes of 10+ yards. Against Alabama on Saturday, his longest run was 9 yards.
ESPN Stats & Information