It didn’t matter which offensive aspect Penn State decided to take away from Alabama. The No. 1 Crimson Tide (2-0) meshed power running with five-wide passing to control a 24-3 victory in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night.
“We want to keep people off balance,” said senior quarterback Greg McElroy. “That was the main goal going in. We came out in some spread, no-huddle, tried to wear them out a bit.”
Alabama came out in a five-wide receiver set for every play during its second drive of the game. Six empty-formation plays later, McElroy threaded a pass to redshirt freshman Kevin Norwood for a 36-yard touchdown to put the Tide up 7-0 less than seven minutes into the game.
A completely different offensive game plan took over Alabama’s next drive. After being backed up on its own 3-yard line, the Tide rode three straight Trent Richardson carries to the Penn State 37.
The drive ended when McElroy connected with Preston Dial for a 14-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.
“We had good balance,” head coach Nick Saban said. “I think that’s going to be the key for us to continue to improve.”
Defensively, Alabama may not have been as dominant as its three points allowed indicates. The Tide forced turnovers three times when the Nittany Lions were inside the Alabama 30.
“The key to the game was probably the turnovers in the red zone,” Saban said. “Turnovers always play a significant part in any game. We got three very timely ones when they got drives.”
Two of the turnovers were a result of getting pressure on true freshman quarterback Robert Bolden.
“[We were] able to come after him with four down linemen as well as extra guys on blitzes and disguise our coverages,” sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower said.
“I feel like there’s a lot of question going on with our defense. For us to be able to hold Penn State down to three points – Penn State’s a really good team. I feel like we made a statement tonight.”
After taking a 17-0 halftime lead, Alabama came out of the locker room without the offensive rhythm it had in the first half. On the second play of the fourth quarter, however, Richardson capped a 12-play, 71-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Tide a 24-0 lead and put the game out of reach.
The Nittany Lions got on the board with a meaningless 36-yard field goal on their next drive to avoid the shutout and make the final score 24-3.
Richardson finished the game with 144 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. He became the first player since Iowa’s Shonn Greene in November of 2008 to rush for more than 100 yards on Penn State’s defense. The Tide running back had eclipsed the century mark by halftime.
“He’s able to get those tough yards and make those big plays that you would never expect from anybody,” Hightower said. “Trent’s kind of short, so you expect him to be more speed and more agile, but Trent’s not one of those guys. He’s a one-cut runner.”
Alabama will take on Duke next week with defensive end Marcell Dareus back in the lineup after a two-game suspension. Running back Mark Ingram is also likely to return against the Blue Devils.