Though Alabama’s defense held No. 18 Penn State to only a field goal, the Nittany Lions still gave the Tuscaloosa crowd a scare at times.
The first defensive save came in the first quarter when Penn State drove into Alabama’s red zone. Sophomore Will Lowery came up with the first pick of the game, stealing the ball back at Alabama’s 3-yard line. Consequently, the Crimson Tide was able to march back down the field and score it second touchdown early in the second quarter.
Wide receiver Darius Hanks said the big defensive plays helped give the offense more enthusiasm to go back down the field.
“It gives us a lot of motivation,” he said. “When those guys get excited, we get excited. When they get a pick, we know we have to go and score.”
The next defensive save was a little more complicated. Safety Mark Barron forced a fumble at the Alabama 12. Robert Lester picked up the fumble and ran it back to the Penn State 16, only to have it stripped from him.
Defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick tried to recover the fumble, but the referees reviewed the play and gave the ball back to Penn State at its own 2-yard line.
“Well they reviewed it, and they both were fumbles,” head coach Nick Saban said. “It doesn’t really matter what I think. I would like to think that the first one was a fumble and we got it, but the second one wasn’t. But no such luck.
“I was worried about the guy getting stripped from behind the whole time he was running it because he was swinging the ball. So that could’ve happened sooner. But the good news is it did change field position.”
Lester said on that play he could feel the player coming up behind him, and he tried to keep the ball safe.
“I knew he tried to get [the football], and I tried to tighten it up, and I really don’t know how he got it out of there,” he said.
Though the Lions ended up with the ball, they were unable to produce anything, and Alabama’s defense prevailed again.
In the third quarter, Lester intercepted Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden’s pass in the red zone, forcing the third red zone turnover.
“I don’t really consider the fumble a turnover for me,” Lester said. “Mark Barron made a great play to get the ball out, and I happened to be there and pick it up. On the interception, [I was] just playing assignment football and holding my man and breaking on the ball.”
These big defensive stops all came at critical times. The Lions were knocking on the Tide’s end zone, but Alabama managed to hold the No. 18 team to only three points.
Saban said the turnovers in the red zone played a big part in the 24-3 victory.
“I think the key to the game was probably the turnovers in the red zone,” he said. “They had three, which was a real key to the game. Turnovers always play a significant part in the game and the outcome of any game, and we got three very timely when they made drives.”
Sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower said he got more confident with each turnover in the red zone.
“You never really want to be able to give the offense the red zone, but coming out and having those turnovers has made me feel more comfortable about other teams coming down and getting in the red zone,” he said. “So, I know that I feel like we’ll be able to keep our fences up and keep them limited to three and a blocked field goal.”