TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - It was not a dynamic debut for Alabama's offense under new coordinator Lane Kiffin, but there were some late sparks as the White defeated the Crimson 17-13 Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The two teams played a scoreless first half, and the first score was registered by defensive lineman D.J. Pettway, who intercepted a Blake Sims screen pass and rambled 29 yards for a touchdown less than five minutes into the third quarter. It was still just a 10-7 game with three minutes remaining, but Cooper Bateman threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to ArDarius Stewart to put the White up 17-7, and Sims responded with a 55-yard scoring strike to Chris Black with 21 seconds left.
"Everybody needs to understand that in games like today, we really limit what we do on offense and we really limit what we do on defense," coach Nick Saban said. "We really don't try and feature players. That may be a little bit of a disadvantage sometimes to our players. Blake Sims can do some things as a quarterback that we really didn't feature in this game.
"We really don't feature our skill guys very much, but [receiver] Amari Cooper had a great spring, as did Christion Jones. We had three running backs that had very good springs."
Saturday's announced A-Day audience of 73,506 was the smallest of the eight spring games under Saban, but it's the largest in the nation so far this year, edging out the crowds at Penn State, Auburn and Tennessee.
Junior tailback T.J. Yeldon, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, had 11 carries for 95 yards and a 1-yard touchdown that capped a 7-yard drive begun after linebacker Tim Williams caused and recovered a Kenyan Drake fumble. Cooper, who is also a junior and had a 1,000-yard season as a freshman, had three receptions for 45 yards.
"We just ran basic plays and kept things basic," Yeldon said. "We probably ran about 10 percent of our offense."
Sims emerged from a five-man competition to become the starter for the Crimson, which included the first-team offense and the second-team defense. He completed more than 60 percent of his passes for more than 500 yards in the first two scrimmages but on Saturday went 13-of-30 for 178 passing yards with two interceptions before the late touchdown.
Junior safety Landon Collins dropped a third potential interception of Sims.
"Blake had a really good spring, and he did a really good job in the scrimmages," Saban said. "I thought in this game that he was trying to speed everything up a bit, and he tried to speed up with it rather than stay in his rhythm. It's like when a baseball pitcher tries to throw the ball a little harder and all of a sudden he can't throw a strike. I think there's a lot of things he could do to be an effective quarterback that he didn't do in this game today."
Joining the quarterback mix this summer will be Jacob Coker, who is in the process of graduating from Florida State and will have two seasons of eligibility with the Crimson Tide.
Sims did not produce two first downs in the same drive until the touchdown pass to Black in the final seconds. Bateman went 11-of-24 for 156 yards and a touchdown for the White in the matchup of second-team offense against the second-team defense.
Linebackers Reggie Ragland and Trey DePriest made 10 and seven tackles, respectively, for the White. DePriest liked the fact the first half was scoreless.
"That was good, but it's really just all about competing," DePriest said. "The offense had a slow start but picked it up at the end. I think our defensive line was great. They get their hands on guys and strike them."
Alabama will open its 2014 season against West Virginia in Atlanta's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic on Aug. 30. The game will be televised by ABC with a 3:30 EDT kickoff.
"I didn't think the consistency on offense was what I would have liked for it to have been today," Saban said. "We did make some plays, but there wasn't the consistency that you would like to see in the offense. However, when you play against each other, what's good for one is not so good for the other, so you have to give the defense some credit.
"I really thought that our front people on defense made a lot of improvement this spring. We're more athletic and have more guys that can rush, and I think that showed up in the game today."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.