Tuscaloosa, AL – Coming off an impressive season-opening victory, the now top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide have served notice that they are fully capable of defending their national title. Next on the docket is this weekend's matchup with the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
Nick Saban's squad took part in last weekend's marquee matchup and turned it into a rout, blowing out then eighth-ranked Michigan, 41-14 in Arlington, Texas.
Despite the big win, Saban knows things need to get better.
"Everyone thought that we were too young, too inexperienced and we couldn't handle success. Everyone was saying those things about our team. Now, people are saying something different. My question is, `What's different?' Nothing. We are still young, we are still inexperienced and we still have things to work on. It's going to be all about the maturity that the team has to be able to focus on what they need to do to correct the deficits that we have, whether it's individually or collectively as a unit on some part of our team so that we improve as a team. That's going to be important to how well we do. It's all about the progress that you make through the season. There's plenty of room for us to make progress."
The Hilltoppers are also 1-0 on the young season after making light work of Austin Peay last week, 49-10. It marked the first time that Western Kentucky has started the season with a win since 2005. Western Kentucky is facing a defending national champion for just the second time in program history, opening the 2007 campaign against Florida.
Head coach Willie Taggart has been tasked with keeping his squad focused on the task at hand and not get overly concerned with playing the defending national champion.
"I think our football team is over that. We are playing Alabama. They have not won a national championship this year. They are good. They are one of the best football teams out there. To be honest with you, I think they might be the next expansion team to the NFL. They have some big guys. They are big, strong, fast and can run. They do not make a lot of mistakes. They are well coached. Coach [Nick] Saban does a great job on both sides of the ball. They have some big, big individuals. It is going to be a great challenge for our football team. We are excited to go down there."
These two teams have met just once prior, with Alabama posting a 41-7 decision in Tuscaloosa in 2008.
Taggart got his third season in charge at WKU off on the right foot, thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Kawaun Jakes, who completed 18-of-23 passes, for a career-best 296 yards and four TDs against Austin Peay. Jakes put up his numbers in just over a half of play. He became just the fifth QB in school history and first since 1985 to throw four or more TDs in a game.
The Hilltoppers as a whole, put up a gaudy 596 yards of total offense, getting a hefty 244 yards on the ground and 352 through the air.
Versatile tailback Antonio Andrews had a huge season-opener as well, racking up 228 all-purpose yards, including a 70-yard punt return for a TD to open the scoring in the first quarter of the game.
The Western Kentucky defense was equally impressive in the season-opener, holding the Governors to a mere seven first downs and 154 total yards, including a ridiculous 11 yards passing.
Junior linebacker Xavius Boyd led the team with eight total tackles. Fellow junior LB Andrew Jackson and redshirt freshman end Gavin Rocker recorded the two sacks that the Hilltoppers got, while sophomore safety Jonathan Dowling (seven tackles) had the one interception on the day.
Despite the loss of several All-Americans from last year, the Crimson Tide looked like they haven't missed a beat. Replacing Heisman finalist Trent Richardson certainly won't be easy, but the depth in Alabama's backfield was evident in the opener, as the defending champs erupted for 232 rushing yards. Freshman T.J. Yeldon definitely made an immediate impact, rumbling for 111 yards and one TD on 11 carries. Juniors Jalston Fowler (67 yards) and Eddie Lacy (35 yards and one TD) got into the act as well.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron managed the offense well and was sharp early on, finishing the game 11-of-21, for 199 yards and two TDs.
Most of the All-American talent that moved on to the NFL was on the defensive side of the ball for Alabama, but the 2012 squad was impressive nonetheless, holding Michigan to just 269 total yards, including a mere 69 yards rushing. The Crimson Tide neutralized Michigan's Denard Robinson, who threw for 200 yards, but was guilty of two interceptions, while rushing for just 27 yards and one TD.
The Tide recorded three interceptions overall in the win, including one by junior linebacker C.J. Mosley, who returned it 16 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to open up a huge lead over the Wolverines.
Saban is looking forward to the home-opener this week and will not underestimate WKU.
"We are certainly looking forward to our home opener in Bryant-Denny Stadium. We had a great crowd and great venue this past weekend. It was great for our fans. We certainly enjoyed participating in that game, but even more we are looking forward to playing at home. I think all of our players love playing in Bryant-Denny Stadium and love the great atmosphere that we have there, so I know that the players are looking forward to that. I know that you all don't think Western Kentucky is very good, but they've won eight out of their last nine games, and they are probably one of the better teams in the Sun Belt this year, maybe the Sun Belt champs eventually."