Tide Overcomes Injuries, Slow Start in Iron Bowl Tune-Up
Sandwiched in between a matchup with then-No. 1 Mississippi State and an impending showdown with Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Alabama’s game against FCS Western Carolina on Saturday was intended to be a light week. Instead, the Crimson Tide took a few more punches than expected and a few left a mark.
For a quarter and a half, No. 1 Alabama went back and forth with the Catamounts from Cullowhee, North Carolina before eventually taking control in a 48-14 victory. Western Carolina had led 7-0 lead after the opening possession of the game and trailed just 17-14 as early as the second quarter.
“We just weren't ready to play,” Saban said at halftime. “We were flat in the game. We didn't have the energy in the pregame warm-up and we didn't play with any energy in the beginning of the game. Making sure we have that energy is my responsibility. We didn't play to our standard, which I'm very disappointed in.”
Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) was able to start pulling its starters when the Crimson Tide scored three straight touchdowns to end the half with a comfortable 38-14 lead at hand. But by that time, it was too little, too late for a few Crimson Tide players, including wide receiver Amari Cooper, left tackle Cam Robinson and defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson, who all did not return after sustaining first-half injuries. Saban said all three should be fine for Auburn next week.
“We got a lot of guys banged up, so it’s just important this week of practice to get everyone healthy and be ready to play Saturday,” cornerback Cyrus Jones said.
Western Carolina (7-5) went up 7-0 with the help of an inadvertent whistle earlier in the drive, negating an Alabama fumble recovery. It was the first touchdown allowed by the Crimson Tide against an FCS opponent since Georgia Southern scored three in 2011.
After 17 unanswered points from the Crimson Tide, the Catamounts took advantage of a Derrick Henry fumble deep inside Alabama territory, allowing Spearman Robinson to pull in his second touchdown reception of the game from Troy Mitchell to make it 17-14.
The Catamounts threatened again with a fake field goal attempt from the Alabama 14 trailing 41-14 in the third quarter, but kicker Richard Sigmon was stopped short on the fourth-and-3 run.
“I just think it all comes with preparation,” Jones said on overcoming the early adversity. “I just don’t think we prepared for those guys as we should have, and we didn’t do a good job of focusing on the opponent at the time. “
Alabama outgained Western Carolina 612-213, limiting the Catamounts to negative-8 yards rushing. It also recorded a school-record 36 first downs.
Henry scored three times for Alabama – twice on runs and once on a pass reception – all in the first half. Henry did not play the second half but still rushed for a team-best 92 yards on 12 carries while eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for his career in place of injured starter T.J. Yeldon.
Quarterback Blake Sims also only played in the first half, completing 17-of-25 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw an interception for the first time in 158 attempts during the first quarter, the third-longest streak in team history without throwing a pick. Backup Jake Coker was 12-of-18 for 115 yards and a touchdown.