ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 01: T.J. Yeldon #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs the ball against Jake Ryan #90 of the Michigan Wolverines at Cowboys Stadium on September 1, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Nick Saban's crew didn't miss a beat as they unveiled several new stars and began their national title defense with a 41-14 drubbing of the over matched Wolverines.
The drive chart says it all. After a quick three-and-out to start their season-opening game against Michigan, here's how the rest of the first half went for Alabama: TD, TD, TD, FG, Punt, Defensive TD, Fumble.
Nick Saban didn't need to get cute with the X's and O's on Saturday night. His players were bigger, faster and stronger than their Michigan counterparts on both sides of the ball.
It's a cliche, but it's true -- Alabama doesn't rebuild, it reloads. After going 12-1 and winning the national title, the Crimson Tide had five players taken in the top 35 picks of the NFL Draft. Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw were great players, but like everyone else in Tuscaloosa, they are replaceable.
Mark Ingram, the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, begat Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. Now, running behind a mammoth offensive line, a slew of young running backs look more than capable of carrying the offense in 2012. Their top 4 backs combined to rush for 232 yards and 2 TD's on 36 carries, with an eye-popping average of 5.04 yards per rush.
Alabama has a 6'6 311 five-star OT (Cyrus Kouandjio) on the left side of the line, a 6'5 335 five-star OT (DJ Fluker) on the right and a 6'5 302 former Outland Trophy winner (Barrett Jones) in the middle. Their size and athleticism up front absolutely overwhelmed the Michigan defenders as the game wore on, opening up huge running lanes for the Crimson Tide backs.
Eddie Lacy, the 6'1 220 junior starter who had rushed for 674 yards on 7.1 yards per carry last season, was actually the least impressive of Alabama's three-headed monster. Jalston Fowler, a 6'1 245 junior H-back, rushed for 67 yards on 8 carries. But the real star of the night was true freshman T.J. Yeldon, who more than lived up to the tremendous amount of hype that accompanied his enrollment as a five-star freshman.
Yeldon, at 6'2 215, has a breathtaking combination of size, explosiveness and speed. There are no limits to how good he can be as a football player. It's not just that he racked up 136 total yards rushing (10 carries) and passing (1 catch); it's that he made it look absolutely effortless.
If he stays healthy and puts on 10 pounds of muscle, you can pencil him in as a top-10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and a future Heisman contender. He has the dimensions of a WR, and if Alabama can motion him, split him wide and run screens for him, it's going to be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
AJ McCarron, meanwhile, looked far more confident in his second year as a starter. He wasn't asked to do all that much, completing 11/21 passes for 199 yards and 2 TD's. But he proved he could beat defenses over the top with a 51-yard bomb to DeAndrew White and was this close to connecting on a few more big plays.
Michigan ran into a buzzsaw on both sides of the field on Saturday. With RB Fitzgerald Toussaint suspended, Alabama stacked the box to stop Denard Robinson from running and dare him to beat them deep. Robinson eventually connected a few times, but his grisly stat line speaks for itself: 11/26 for 206 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT's, including a pick-six.
Dee Milliner, a 6'1 200 junior CB with elite speed and quickness, had one of the INT's and looked like a future top 15 pick. It's going to be nearly impossible for any team to run the ball on them, but it's still too early for a verdict on their pass defense, not against a Michigan team unequipped to complete the ball 40+ yards down the field.
At times, the Crimson Tide struggled to get pressure on Robinson with their four-man rush, giving him the time to scan the field and launch moon shots down the field. A deep passing attack allows teams to stretch the field vertically and negate Alabama's strength at the line of scrimmage. Their brand new secondary will improve their communication as the season goes on, but Saban will probably want to find an elite pass rusher in his front seven to complete his defense in 2012.
The Crimson Tide look every bit as good as they did last year, but that doesn't mean they are unbeatable. What it's going to take is a complete team -- a physical defense that can stop Alabama and a pinpoint passing game to attack them vertically. The problem is that in the SEC the passing teams (Georgia, Arkansas) can't defend and the defensive teams (LSU, Auburn) can't pass.
Looking down the road, their first big test will be in Fayetteville in two weeks against an explosive Arkansas offense. One game that may prove interesting is Tennessee, which has Tyler Bray, a 6'6 QB with a rocket launcher for an arm, a former Alabama coach running their defense and generally recruits well on both lines of scrimmage.
However, the big showdown will be a night game at LSU on Nov. 3, a game that may be decided by how much new Tigers QB Zach Mettenberger develops over the next two months.
But for one night in Arlington against a team ranked No. 8 in the country, the Crimson Tide put on an absolute football clinic. In the first half, Alabama was executing at such a high level that it didn't really matter who was lined up against them. They may or may not win another national title in 2012, but Michigan won't be the last team they embarrass this season.