TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WALA) - Running back Eddie Lacy rushed for three first-half touchdowns while gaining 99 yards on 10 carries as fourth-ranked Alabama (10-1 overall; 6-1 in the Southeastern Conference) made quick work of Western Carolina (1-10; 0-8 in the Southern Conference) in a 49-0 shutout of the Catamounts before a crowd of 101,126 on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The Alabama defense held WCU to 163 total yards while earning its third shutout of the season. Meanwhile, the Tide offense amassed 460 total yards while rushing for an even 300 yards and passing for 160. The Tide converted six of nine third-down plays into first downs and averaged 8.8 yards per play on the afternoon. Carolina was limited to 70 rushing yards and only eight first downs.
Alabama's early dominance gave the Crimson Tide a chance to rest its starters for much of the game to set up a crucial season-ending home game with arch-rival Auburn with the Southeastern Conference Western Division title on the line. The Crimson Tide wasted little time, scoring on their first three possessions to create an opportunity for their starters to rest with the annual clash with Auburn awaiting one week away. Alabama scored on every offensive possession of the first half and began resting starters in the second quarter as the game was quickly out of reach.
Alabama scored on drives of 62, 44 and 62 yards on successive drives in the first period to gain a 21-0 lead in the game's first 10:50, then continued building on that lead through the remainder of the first half. The Crimson Tide amassed a 338-40 edge in total offense during the first half, including a 16-2 margin in first downs and a 192-15 margin in rushing yardage while scoring on all five of its first half possessions.
Alabama took the opening kickoff and marched 62 yards in six plays to a touchdown. A 14-yard pass from quarterback AJ McCarron to wide receiver Amari Cooper started the drive. Running back Eddie Lacy rushed over right end for six yards on the next play, the gained five more on the following play. McCarron and Cooper then hooked up on the biggest play of the march, a 36-yard completion on a crossing pattern that ended with Cooper being forced out of bounds inside the WCU one-yard line. On the next play, McCarron fumbled as he turned to handoff to Lacy, losing six yards to the WCU seven. But that only delayed the touchdown as Lacy took a handoff on the next snap and ran seven yards over left end for the touchdown to give Alabama a 7-0 lead with 12:06 remaining following Jeremy Shelley's conversion kick.
After forcing a punt on Carolina's first possession, Alabama quickly set up another score when Christion Jones returned a punt off a bounce 28 yards to set up the Tide at the WCU 44. On the first play, McCarron connected with tight end Michael Williams for 22 yards along the right sideline to the Carolina 22. Running back T.J. Yeldon then carried for four yards to the 18, then Yeldon took a handoff off left end for 15 more yards to the Carolina three-yard line. Yeldon concluded the drive on the next play, taking a handoff off left guard for three yards and a touchdown to give Alabama a 14-0 lead with 7:58 remaining in the first quarter.
Alabama forced another three-and-out by Carolina, setting up its offense at the Tide 38 following a punt. McCarron opened the drive with a 34-yard strike to wide receiver Kenny Bell down the middle of the field to the Carolina 28. On the next play, Lacy took a handoff over right tackle and rumbled 21 yards to the Carolina seven-yard line. Lacy then finished off the three-play, 62-yard scoring march by taking a handoff and running up the middle for seven yards and a score to give Alabama a 21-0 lead with 4:10 remaining in the first quarter.
Carolina responded by putting together a scoring threat on its next possession, which started at its own 25 after a touchback on the kickoff. Quarterback Troy Mitchell started the drive by keeping for nine yard and running back Darius Ramsey gained two on a third-and-one to the WCU 36. After a Ramsey rush failed to gain, Mitchell passed to wide receiver Garrett Brown across the middle for a 28-yard gain to the Tide 36. On the next play, Mitchell was sacked for a loss of eight on a safety blitz by Alabama's Vinnie Sunseri on the final play of the first period. Facing second-and-18 at the Alabama 44, running back Michael Vaughn gained one on a draw play before Mitchell was stopped for no gain on a keeper on a third-and-17 at the Alabama 43, forcing a punt.
The Alabama offense took possession at its own one-yard line following the Carolina punt and marched 99 yards in eight plays consuming 4:59 of game clock. Yeldon carried over left guard for four yards to start the possession, and then gained four more on a run off right tackle. On third-and-two, Yeldon took a handoff off right end for 15 yards and a first down at the Tide 24. On the next play, McCarron couldn't find an open receiver, but
took advantage of a seam in the Carolina defense to tuck the ball and run, gaining 24 yards behind good blocking to the Tide 48.
McCarron's first-down screen pass to receiver Cyrus Jones lost two, then Yeldon took a handoff on a power sweep to the left side for 10 yards to set up a third-and-two at the Carolina 44. Lacy took a handoff off left tackle for 15 yards to a first down at the Carolina 29, then McCarron capped the drive with a 29-yard strike to wide out Christion Jones down the left sideline for a touchdown and a 28-0 Alabama lead with 8:15 left in the second quarter. The touchdown strike was McCarron's 21 st of the 2012 season, setting a new Alabama single-season record for touchdown passes.
That ended McCarron's day. He ended his short day of work with 133 yards passing while completing all six attempts for one touchdown without an interception.
After another WCU punt on the next possession set up Alabama at its own 29, Blake Sims entered as the Tide's quarterback and led another scoring drive with the starting unit. On the first play, Sims handed to Lacy who rushed off left guard for 20 yards to the 49. Sims rushed over left tackle for 11 to the WCU 40. Lacy gained 15 on a run over right tackle and Sims rolled right and passed to Marvin Shinn for 14 to the WCU 12. Sims then kept for nine yards to the Catamount three before a run by Lacy was stopped for no gain on second down. On third-and-one at the WCU 3, Lacy took a handoff, avoided a tackler and scored off the left end with 3:02 left in the second quarter. Shelley's point-after kick gave Alabama a 35-0 lead following the 71-yard, seven-play march.
After a fumble on a punt set up the Catamounts at the Tide 29-yard line in the final minute of the first half, a trick play went awry and led to another Alabama touchdown. After a handoff and a throwback lateral off a handoff was fumbled, Tide defensive back Deion Belue picked up the fumble and ran 57 yards for a touchdown to give Alabama a 42-0 lead with 14 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Tide opened the second half with another touchdown drive after forcing a Catamount punt, moving 61 yards in 10 plays. The drive featured five Sims rushes covering 47 yards including a 23-yard scramble that set up a five-yard touchdown keeper by Sims with 7:15 left in the third quarter for a 49-0 Alabama lead.
On Carolina's next possession the Catamounts managed a scoring threat, reaching the Alabama 14-yard line before being repelled by the Crimson Tide defense. A 30-yard pass from quarterback Eddie Sullivan to running back Michael Johnson reached the Tide 23. On a third-and-16 play, Sullivan scrambled for 15 yards to set up a fourth-and-one at the Alabama 14 before running Johnson was stopped short of the first down to end the threat with 1:15 left in the third quarter.