By The Associated Press
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Florida Atlantic’s brief tour of Southeastern Conference powers ended with on a positive, with the Owls stopping No. 1 Alabama’s shutout streak.
The rest of the time was a struggle for coach Carl Pelini’s team, which fell 40-7 to the Crimson Tide on Saturday but did manage the late touchdown.
“That’s a great defense that we faced,” Pelini said. “I mean, I don’t know if it was a slow start or if it was a fast start for them defensively. They’re a very good defensive football team and they were just physically handling us upfront early in the game.”
AJ McCarron threw three touchdown passes, including an early 85-yarder to Kenny Bell, for the Crimson Tide (4-0).
Eddie Lacy rushed for 106 yards in the first half for the Tide, which rolled to 134 consecutive points and two shutouts before allowing a touchdown in the final minutes.
The Owls (1-3) managed only one first down through three quarters and were outgained 503-110 in total yards. They were coming off a 56-20 loss to another Southeastern Conference power, No. 5 Georgia.
Pelini called Alabama “as physical a team as there is out there.”
“That’s not Georgia we faced today, that’s Alabama — it’s very different, ” he said. “Different scheme-wise. I think they’re more physical than Georgia. You know, I don’t compare teams but they’re just different. They play differently. They pressure more than Georgia did. They’re physical in their man coverage.”
This one was even more one-sided for the 50-point underdogs.
McCarron was 15-of-25 passing for 212 yards before leaving midway through the third quarter. The 85-yarder came 1:42 into the game and is tied for the fifth-longest touchdown pass in Tide history.
The only suspense late was whether Alabama could complete a third straight shutout for the first time since Bear Bryant’s unbeaten 1966 team.
Alabama ran its shutout streak to 192 minutes, 25 seconds dating back to the third quarter of the opener against Michigan, but that’s as far as it got.
Graham Wilbert hit Alex Deleon for a 6-yard touchdown with 2:49 left, silencing the remaining fans hoping for three shutouts in a row. It took 8 minutes, 24 seconds, 15 plays and two fourth-down conversions to reach the end zone on the drive.
An unsportsmanlike conduct flag against Alabama’s bench for stepping too far onto the field two plays before the score showed how badly the Tide wanted to keep the goose eggs flowing.
The Owls had just 41 total yards and one first down through three quarters before finally moving the ball across midfield on the final drive.
Wilbert was 7-of-13 passing for 34 yards — 23 on the cosmetic scoring drive. Earlier, Jesse Williams had blocked a field goal attempt to preserve the shutout attempt.
“They played really well, we just started slow,” Wilbert said. “It was just tough to get things going the first half and we just did a terrible job coming out. We didn’t have a lot of energy.”
Alabama’s backup, Blake Sims, had one completion, a 35-yarder to freshman Cyrus Jones. Fellow freshman T.J. Yeldon ran 10 times for 63 yards and a third newcomer, Kenyan Drake, scored on an 8-yard run for Alabama’s final points early in the fourth.
The kickers, maligned at times last season, were perfect.
Alabama did just about everything it wanted in the first half — except, at times, punch it into the end zone. The Tide led 30-0 with three field goals, including a career-best 52-yarder by Cade Foster. He added a 46-yarder in the second half while Jeremy Shelley had kicks of 26 and 30 yards in the second quarter.
The Tide dominated 353-23 in total yards in the half and started in a big way.
On Alabama’s third play, McCarron hit Bell on a short crossing route. Bell got away from one defender and sprinted by himself down the sideline for the 85-yarder on his only reception.
“It was a great touchdown,” Bell said. “I felt like it was time for me to make a big play to get the offense going. When AJ saw me, he threw it to me, threw a pass to me then I just had to use my legs to get to the touchdown.”
Then DeAndrew White barely managed to get his foot down inbounds at the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown catch and McCarron hit Christion Jones for another 4-yarder with 8 seconds left in the half.
Alabama converted a fourth-and-1 to avoid settling for another kick.
Alabama scored on its first seven drives, not counting a fumbled punt return that was one of the few real mistakes. It was a different story from a 35-0 win over another Sun Belt team, Western Kentucky, two weeks ago when coach Nick Saban griped that his players weren’t focused enough on the game.
This time he tried to keep attention internally, trying to aim for the lofty standard he’s set for the defending national champions.
The Tide has now beaten nine of its last 17 opponents by at least 30 points, including last week’s 52-0 win at Arkansas.