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Looking at rival
Saban plays plenty as Tide coasts past Western Carolina
By Mark Edwards
The Decatur Daily

Associated Press/Dave Martin
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron greets wide receiver Christion Jones (22) after the pair hooked up on a 29-yard scoring pass during the first half. Offensive lineman D.J. Fluker joins the celebration in Tuscaloosa on Saturday afternoon.

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama’s 24-hour rule seemed more like a 24-minute rule after Saturday’s 49-0 win over Western Carolina, which had less drama than a preseason scrimmage.

Soon after the victory (or even before), all eyes turned to next week’s home game against Auburn. Not only are bragging rights on the line, but Alabama needs to win that one to make the SEC Championship Game and keep its national title hopes alive.

So, Alabama quickly abandoned Tide coach Nick Saban’s idea the players could enjoy a win for 24 hours before moving on. They didn’t need that long after dispatching a struggling Football Championship Subdivision team.

“I’m not waiting 24 hours — I’m already thinking about Auburn,” Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri said with a grin afterward.

Western Carolina lost for the 26th time in 28 games and finished the season 1-10, hardly offering much of a challenge to the Crimson Tide, which got a breather after three straight games against ranked opponents. Alabama recorded its 10th win and fifth straight 10-win season. The Crimson Tide hasn’t done that since 1971-75.

Alabama scored a touchdown on each of its first six offensive possessions, and defensive back Deion Belue of Tuscumbia returned a fumble 57 yards for a score.

Alabama led 42-0 at intermission before unloading the bench in the second half.

“Our guys played the way we wanted to play,” Saban said. “We improved as a team and had a good week of practice. Everything is ahead of us as a team.”

With the big early lead, Saban and his staff got the chance to play plenty of reserves. Most of the starters spent the second half on the bench, except in instances where they held spots on the special teams.

Starting quarterback AJ McCarron led the offense to four touchdowns in his four series and then gave way to Blake Sims. The starting offensive line spent one series with Sims and then called it a day.

Fourth-string running back Brent Calloway of Russellville turned into one of the stars of the day. Not only did he carry the ball seven times for 52 yards, but he made three tackles as part of kick coverage teams.

“One of the good things about today was the opportunity to play a lot of players,” Saban said. “I’m sure there were a few other guys that we could have got in the game that we probably should have got in the game, but we were trying to get as many guys in the game as we possibly could. For some guys, all the hard work that they do is certainly appreciated, and we were happy to play as many players as we did.”

When the starters played, it looked like they were working in practice against the Tide scout team. Alabama’s offense didn’t face a third down until its fourth possession when it had third-and-two. T.J. Yeldon ripped off a 15-yard run on the next play. On the same drive, Alabama had another third-and-two, but Eddie Lacy rushed for 15 yards.

Lacy finished with 99 yards and three touchdowns, while Yeldon and Blake Sims each rushed for a score. AJ McCarron threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Christion Jones, which gives him a school-record 21 scoring throws this season.

Heck, even kicking specialist Cade Foster seemed to boom his kickoffs farther. He averaged 64 yards on eight kickoffs, which is a yard above his season average.

“They are impressively strong,” Western Carolina coach Mark Speir said. “You watch film, and both of their (offensive and defensive) lines, seeing them up front and live in person, I can say they are for real.”

But by the time Speir made that statement in his postgame news conference, Alabama already had put his team in the past.

“Next week, it’s for the West, for all our hopes and dreams, and it’s Auburn,” Alabama lineman Barrett Jones said.

“It doesn’t matter what their record is or who their coach is, it’s always tough.”

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