A simple plan, not even executed to perfection, but good enough to beat a Top 20 Penn State team 24-3 on a summer evening following a day of celebration and homage.
Alabama fans greeted the Penn State Icon, Joe Paterno with respect and dignity as the Nittany Lions ran onto the field. Mal Moore arranged a meeting of two legends, and one legend in the making, before kickoff. A meeting that was surely a sight to behold, and a memory that will last.
Paterno, Bowden and the much younger, relatively speaking, Nick Saban shook hands and had a few nice words to say to each other before the Penn State University and University of Alabama football teams took the field for the first time in twenty years.
Despite what others have said and written, the game was much closer that the score. Three plays, three turnovers in the red zone, took the life out of the Lions and their hopes for victory were swept away by the Crimson Tide.
Robert Bolden was pressured into two of the mistakes, the third was simply an errant pass that was picked off because of good, tight coverage by the Tide secondary. Penn State was able to mount effective drives on the Alabama defense in the first and second halves of the game.
But it was a defense that bent but would not break from the roar of the Nittany Lion.
Running on Empty
Alabama lined up with five receivers with the mindset of tiring out the Penn State secondary early in the game. If it didn't tire them out, running the empty formation (Red Ball) was certainly effective in moving the ball down field in a hurry as the Tide scored on a 36-yard reception by RS freshman Kevin Norwood who somersaulted into the end zone for the score.
The score ended a five play 68-yard drive that took 02:38 in time of possession.
Penn State answered the score with a 56-yard, nine-play drive that took 04:38 in time of possession, landing them on the Alabama 20-yard line. On the next play, with the true freshman, Robert Bolden dropping back to pass, a blitzing Dont'a Hightower cause a fatal QB hurry that ended in an interception on the Alabama 3-yard line.
Alabama quickly went back on the attack. Once again, running on empty, Greg McElroy move the Alabama offense 97 yards in nine plays, finishing the drive on a 14-yard pass completion to TE Preston Dial. It was Dial's first career touchdown.
Once again, the PSU freshman quarterback went down the field with his offense, beginning the drive at their own 23-yard line. Bolden led the Lions on a 67-yard, seven-play drive that ended in a fumble on the Alabama 9-yard line.
Alabama's Robert Lester picked up the fumble, ran for 75 yards and returned the favor as he fumbled the ball back into the hands Penn State's Brett Brackett. That play took all hope away from the Penn State offense. They went from knocking on the door to having their backs to the wall on their own two-yard line.
As if in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, with the special effects camera zooming in on the end zone and then zooming out with a wide angle lens, the end zone couldn't have seemed to be any further away for the men clad in White, stripped in blue. The end zone line would not be crossed by an offensive player on the Penn State team all evening.
The lone score for Penn State was a 36-yard field goal with 09:47 left in the fourth quarter.
After going into the half with a 17-0 lead, Alabama traded punches with the Nittany Lions in the third quarter as time was drained from the play clock. With 5:34 left in the third quarter, starting from their own 29-yard line, McElroy put together a 06:24 minute drive that ended with a touchdown by Trent Richardson, on a one-yard run over right guard.
Not a Chance
Alabama offensive lineman Chance Warmack will likely make a visit to Saban's office on Monday for a little one-on-one. Warmack was flagged for holding in the first quarter of play, during the first touchdown drive.
It was the first hold called on the Alabama offensive line in more that 10 quarters of play, more than 600 minutes of playing time.
In addition to the hold, Warmack was flagged for false start, not once, but twice, again, on drives that could have stalled but eventually ended in scores by the Alabama offense.
It is not likely that the score or the win will hinder Coach Saban from having a little discussion on discipline with Mr. Warmack. The discussion may end with a suggestion to the offensive lineman on how to perform a little extra-curricular weight lifting and sprinting, to boot in order to prevent further infractions on the field.
Not that Saban would consider any form of punishment for the young man. Why punish a player when you can suggest creative ways for self improvement? It's all about getting better s a player, isn't it?
In the Trent-ches
Sophomore running back Trent Richardson rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries and scored one touchdown on the evening. His longest rush was for 33 yards. He lost only three yards on the evening, averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
Penn State running back, Evan Royster had nine carries for 32 yards. He led the Penn State rushing attack that finished with 130 yards rushing for the game. Royster will finish his career, barring injury, as the rushing leader in Penn State history.
The Alabama defense did their job against the gifted running back, holding him to a career low, and not allowing a rushing touchdown.
In the Air
Alabama QB Greg McElroy found six different receivers for a net 229 yards passing and two touchdowns. Darius Hanks led all receivers in yards gained (52) on three catches, while Julio Jones and Trent Richardson each had four receptions, tying for the lead in receptions.
The Alabama offense did not commit a turnover. The lone turnover followed the fumble recovery by Robert Lester. The turnover "flipped the field" for the PSU offense. A fumble from which they never recovered (pardon the pun).
In contrast, the PSU offense had three fumbles (3-1) and PSU quarterbacks were intercepted three times on night. Bolden credited with two INT (Lowery, Lester), Brown one INT (Barron).
Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer
The Alabama crowd was electric throughout the entire 60 minutes of play. Despite the 24-3 final score, the stands were nearly full as the Band led the fans in the victory chant at the end of the evening. As the victory chant was belted out, the coaching staffs shook hands and the players congratulated each other for a game well played on both sidelines.
Not for quite some time will a visiting team enter Bryant-Denny with the thought of walking out with a victory. And for that we have Louisiana Monroe and Nick Saban to thank.
Saban has changed the culture. Rather, he has re-established the culture of winning at the Capstone. He is doing it a different way, he is doing it the right way. And his program will re-establish a tradition that will last beyond his coaching tenure, a tradition of winning by doing things right.
The Penn State fans were a class act, as was the Penn State team and coaching staff. Thanks to you, Penn State fans, and to Coach Paterno. You have a great program to cheer for, a team with integrity and class.
This was one to remember for a fan of the game. One that will potentially be avenged when the Tide travels to Happy Valley in 2011.