Crimson Tide roll past Middle Tennessee

Published 9:22 pm Saturday, September 12, 2015

Alabama's Shawn Burgess-Becker and Michael Nysewander celebrate. The Crimson Tide rolled to a 37-10 victory Saturday. — Alaina Denean Deshazo

Alabama’s Shawn Burgess-Becker and Michael Nysewander celebrate. The Crimson Tide rolled to a 37-10 victory Saturday. — Alaina Denean Deshazo

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama emphatically brushed aside any fears of getting toppled or needing a great escape like other SEC West powers, and appears to have found a No. 1 quarterback in the process.

Jake Coker passed for 214 yards, all in the first half, and Derrick Henry ran for three touchdowns to lead the second-ranked Crimson Tide to a 37-10 victory over Middle Tennessee on Saturday.

The Tide (2-0) started slowly against the five-touchdown underdogs minutes after rival No. 6 Auburn eked out an overtime win over FCS team Jacksonville State and just before Toledo knocked off No. 18 Arkansas. There was no such scare at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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A few minutes of anxiety, maybe.

“When you play games like this, if you don’t have the right intensity and the right toughness, you’re going to get exposed,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who is 9-0 in Tuscaloosa openers. “These teams that you play are all good enough to expose you.”

Coker started for the second straight game and gave no indication he’s going to yield the job to Cooper Bateman, who played the second half against the Blue Raiders (1-1). Coker was 15 of 26 with a touchdown but also had a pass intercepted after throwing into double coverage.

“We started Jake two games in a row, I think there’s a reason for that,” Saban said, as close as he has come to declaring a winner.

Henry has three TDs in each of Alabama’s first two games and gained 96 yards. Backfield mate Kenyan Drake set up one TD with a 69-yard catch and run and scored on a 14-yard pass from Bateman, gaining 91 yards on five receptions.

Alabama led just 7-3 early in the second quarter despite two fumbles and a missed field goal by Middle Tennessee, which had four turnovers after scoring 70 points in the opener against Jackson State.

“I told our team if we were playing tennis, you’d have three unforced errors,” Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said. “We fumbled the ball on the first play of the game. We fumbled the ball on the first play of the half. We (were) getting a little over anxious down there on the goal line. We rush ourselves.”

The Tide got a warmup for a Southeastern Conference Western Division showdown with No. 17 Mississippi, the only team to beat Alabama in the 2014 regular season.

Alabama dominated the second and third quarters and outgained Middle Tennessee 532-275. The Tide did most of its early damage through the air before Henry finished off drives with two short touchdowns. Then Henry took over with 66 third-quarter yards before joining Coker on the sideline.

“We came out in the second half and started to get into a real groove,” Tide defensive lineman Jarran Reed said. “We never panicked.”

Bateman had the Tide driving in the fourth quarter but had his pass intercepted by Jeremy Cutrer, who returned it 77 yards before getting chased down by freshman tailback Damien Harris.

That set up Middle Tennessee’s only touchdown, a 15-yard pass from backup quarterback Austin Grammer to Rod Ducksworth.

Bateman was 11 of 17 for 98 yards with an interception and touchdown.

Alabama’s kicking woes continued to mar the team’s performance. Adam Griffith missed field goals of 24 and 49 yards and is 0 for 4.

Ronnie Harrison did block a punt in the end zone for a safety.

Blue Raiders safety Kevin Byard was ejected for a targeting penalty after a hit on Bateman in the third quarter after making his 16th career interception.

“I feel like I did everything right on the play,” Byard said. “The quarterback slid late. I was just coming in and trying to make the tackle. I think we just coincidentally went helmet-to-helmet. I really didn’t mean to do it.”

After defeating their first two opponents by more than two touchdowns each, the Crimson Tide open SEC play next week at home against the Ole Miss Rebels Saturday at 8:15 p.m.