Press-Register Alabama Bureau
TUSCALOOSA – An Alabama football team that is chasing greatness merely was very good Saturday night.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference) started slowly but still was more than good enough to defeat Vanderbilt 34-0 on homecoming at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
You’ve heard of moral victories? This almost sounded like a moral defeat, because the Crimson Tide didn’t dominate the Commodores (3-2, 1-2) for all four quarters. It rallied from a 14-0 halftime lead.
“We played a pretty good half, but as a whole game, I’m not sure we played our best game,” junior left tackle Barrett Jones said, “and every time we take the field, we want to play our best game up to that point.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban was not pleased.
“We didn’t have the mental energy and intensity that we like to have, to play with the kind of consistency that we need to improve as a team,” he said.
The Tide went three-and-out on two of its first three possessions.
“I thought we came out flat,” said senior tight end Brad Smelley, who caught his first career touchdown pass in the first quarter. “Obviously we want to start faster than that.”
The defense allowed Vanderbilt to drive into field-goal position twice in the first half, but the Commodores missed both kicks.
“We kind of got off to a rocky start, made a lot of mental errors in the first half,” junior linebacker Nico Johnson said. “We were kind of disappointed in that, so we came out and wanted to set the tone early.”
The second half was a different story. Alabama held Vanderbilt to 48 yards in the last two quarters. For the game, the Commodores never drove inside the Tide’s 20-yard line.
Alabama did plenty of things well. The defense pitched its second shutout of the season and had two second-half interceptions. The offense had no turnovers.
AJ McCarron completed 23 or 30 passes for 237 yards and a career-high four touchdowns.
Trent Richardson rushed for 107 yards, giving him five consecutive 100-yard games, and he scored his 12th touchdown of the season on a 1-yard run.
A team that had scored touchdowns at only a 55 percent rate in the red zone in its first time games went 4 for 5 in the red zone this time.
All five of Alabama’s touchdowns came on third-down plays. It came into the game with a rate of 44 percent on third-down conversions but converted 12 of 17 third-down plays (71 percent).
Best of all, it put together touchdown drives of 77 yards (10 plays), 78 yards (13 plays), 94 yards (12 plays) and 81 yards (nine plays). Starting at the end of the second quarter, it scored on four consecutive possessions.
It opened the second half with a three-and-out on defense and then the 94-yard drive. Richardson ran eight times for 64 yards on the drive.
“That 95-yard drive kind of set the tone for the whole half,” Jones said.
Richardson summed up the Tide’s feelings about underachieving in the wake of a 38-10 victory the previous week at No. 12 Florida.
“We really just want to be relentless and have every team fear us, just don’t want to play us,” he said. “That’s one thing we need to get better at. If we want to be that relentless team, we’ve got to play all four quarters like we did the second half.”