If you felt that the air in University Park, Pennsylvania, possessed the familiar smell of 2009 this past Saturday, you probably weren’t alone.
Yes, the Alabama Crimson Tide, throwing down the dominating and suffocating defense their coach loves more than anything else on earth (save his wife, Terry), displayed the style and strength that carried the program to its 2009 national championship. Nick Saban, the architect of the Crimson Tide’s resurgence since taking over the program in 2007, appears to have once again crafted the relentless and overwhelmingly physical defense he wants. The Penn State Nittany Lions felt the full force and fury of that defense, and as a result, this colorful intersectional encounter between two brand-name football schools was never really much of a contest. Bama bashed and brutalized the Blue and White of Penn State for the final three and a half quarters of play at Beaver Stadium. PSU coach Joe Paterno could only watch from his press-box perch as his Nittany Lions got pounded into submission in Chinese water torture fashion: drip-drip-drip.
Junior running back Trent Richardson led Alabama’s offense with 111 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while sophomore running back Eddie Lacy added another 85 yards. Bama quarterback AJ McCarron was hardly spectacular in this game, but he merely needed to be solid. He was. McCarron turned in a mature and responsible 19-for-31 effort. He might have thrown for only 163 yards, but the key is that he threw no interceptions and never gave Penn State a chance to score points on defense, which is pretty much the only way this confrontation was going to become appreciably competitive. While Alabama protected the ball on offense, it swiped three takeaways on defense, thanks primarily to cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who created both of Penn State’s lost fumbles.
Penn State got on the board first, using 16 plays to go just 54 yards in the game's opening drive, which culminated in a 43-yard field goal. The fact that Penn State needed that many plays to travel such a short distance underscored all the challenges the Nittany Lions faced in this game. Moreover, after that early field goal, Alabama didn’t allow another meaningful point. Sure, the Nittany Lions scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but by that point, the game was 27-3, well out of reach for JoePa’s kids.
Indeed, after PSU’s early field goal, the Tide started to roll. A five-yard pass from McCarron to junior tight end Michael Williams gave Bama a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter. Alabama then padded its lead to 10-3 with five minutes gone in the second quarter on a 22-yard field goal from kicker Jeremy Shelley. Just before halftime, the Crimson Tide produced a 10-play, 50-yard march that culminated in a three-yard touchdown run from Richardson. The No. 2 team in America owned a 17-3 lead at halftime. The second half was just more of the same, and Penn State could do absolutely nothing about the situation.
The Tide defense held the Nittany Lions to 250 total yards (106 rushing, 144 passing), and when one realizes that a good chunk of those yards were gained when this contest had long since been decided, the more accurate “real” number is a lot closer to 150 yards of total offense for Penn State.
Yes, the smell of 2009 is real in the Alabama locker room.