Midway through the second quarter of Alabama's season opener Saturday night against Southern California, the Crimson Tide trailed 3-0 and looked inept on offense without a proven quarterback.
It was a very temporary look.
Alabama's quest for a fifth national championship in eight seasons under coach Nick Saban began in resounding fashion inside AT&T Stadium near Dallas as the No. 1 Crimson Tide erupted for a 52-6 shellacking of the No. 20 Trojans. The 46-point margin is Alabama's largest over a top-20 foe since a 61-6 trouncing of Syracuse in the Orange Bowl following the 1952 season.
"We're obviously proud of the team for the way they played in the game," Saban said in a news conference. "It was a great win for our team and for our program. We got off to a little bit of a shaky start on offense, but our defense did a nice job of playing well after that first series when they hit a big play and got three points.
"We scored a lot of points and made a lot of big plays, but our consistency and execution still needs to be much improved. We still need to get more guys who can play winning football and create more depth on our team. We've got to build around the very good players that we have."
Alabama improved to 7-0 under Saban in neutral-site openers with a suffocating performance. The Crimson Tide ran 57 plays for 465 yards (8.2 per play) while holding the Trojans to 48 plays for 194 yards (4.0).
Saturday night marked the 37th time in its 111 games since the start of the 2008 season that Alabama has held an opponent to fewer than 200 yards, an average of one out of every three games.
"We had a really good plan for these guys, and our guys did a really good job of executing it," Saban said, "but we would not have been able to execute that plan if we could not stop the run, which I was concerned about because of their offensive line and two really good runners. We were able to do that, really to my surprise, to be honest with you.
"Our defensive line probably doesn't get enough credit. The fact that we could stop the run while playing split-safety coverages was really the difference in the game."
Redshirt freshman Blake Barnett got the start over redshirt junior Cooper Bateman at quarterback, but the big surprise took place on Alabama's third possession when true freshman Jalen Hurts entered the game. Hurts fumbled on his first play but wound up passing for 118 yards, rushing for 32 and accounting for four touchdowns.
Hurts became the first Alabama quarterback with two passing and two rushing touchdowns in the same game since Tyler Watts in 2001.
"I said that we were going to pick a starter between Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett, and I never said that Jalen Hurts wasn't going to play," Saban said. "Y'all never asked. It was the plan all along to figure out which one of those guys was going to start and manage this game the best and that Jalen Hurts was going to have a role in this game.
"We had a special plan for him, and he practiced his plays all week long. He was going to go in the third series of this game no matter what, and that's exactly what we did. Y'all never asked, but I wouldn't have told you if you would have asked, but you didn't ask."
Saban added that he would not speculate on the quarterback plan for this week's home opener against Western Kentucky.
A 39-yard touchdown strike from Hurts to ArDarius Stewart midway through the second quarter put Alabama on the board and also opened the floodgates. The two connected again from 71 yards out early in the third quarter, which gave the Tide a 24-3 advantage.
The two touchdown runs by Hurts made it 38-3, and the Trojans wound up without a touchdown for the first time since 1997.
"I could definitely sense that when you get three-and-out after three-and-out that teams just start to kind of give up," Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey told reporters. "That's what we do. Coach always talks about making the other team quit, and in the third quarter, I felt like they were throwing in the towel."
Senior defensive end Jonathan Allen collected two sacks against the Trojans and has eight in his past seven games dating to last season. Saban said guard Alphonse Taylor, arrested in July on a DUI charge (he was acquitted last week), was suspended for the opener but would be back for this week's game against Western Kentucky. Saban was pleased with the play of kicker Adam Griffith, punter JK Scott and the Tide coverage teams that helped prevent return specialist Adoree' Jackson from breaking free. Trojans offensive coordinator Tee Martin on Alabama counterpart and former Southern California head coach Lane Kiffin: "It's been a few years now, but we talked during the week. We had some conversations. They did a good job. Congratulations to them."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.