No. 1 Alabama steamrolls Vanderbilt
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Top-ranked Alabama generally wins football games because it is bigger, stronger, faster and more prepared than its opponents.
All that — plus a phenomenal rushing attack and an extra dose of motivation — were the reasons the Crimson Tide pounded previously unbeaten Vanderbilt 59-0 on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Running back Damien Harris rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns as the Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) lit up the nation’s No. 1 defense for 677 yards while holding the Commodores to just 78.
“I’m proud of our players today, the way we responded. ... I keep telling them, ‘For three games, we win, but ...’” coach Nick Saban said. “There’s a difference between winning and defeating your opponent in terms of how you dominate, what you do for 60 minutes in a game, and how you compete with consistency for 60 minutes in a game.
“Until we learn how to do that, which I think we did today, I don’t think you’ll ever get the respect you deserve. I think they earned a lot of respect today.”
Fresh off an upset of then-No. 18 Kansas State last week, the Commodores were overmatched from the beginning. Vanderbilt (3-1, 0-1) had more penalties (five) than first downs (three).
“Credit Alabama. Alabama is exactly who everybody thinks they are,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “Extremely good football team, well coached, physical, and they play hard and don’t beat themselves.”
Leading by 31 points at halftime, the Crimson Tide went for the throat in the third quarter.
Harris scored his third touchdown on a 2-yard run, and true freshman backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes to make it 52-0.
It wasn’t the same Alabama team that gave up 23 points and 391 yards to Colorado State last week. It was safe to say that the Commodores caught a motivated Crimson Tide squad.
After last week’s upset of Kansas State, Vanderbilt defensive lineman Nifae Lealao uttered the words, “Alabama, you’re next.” Later in the week, Lealao clarified that all he meant was that the Crimson Tide was the next team on the schedule.
But that’s not how Alabama took it. The Crimson Tide played with an edge and poured it on in the second half.
“Yeah, it definitely motivated us,” Alabama defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne said when asked about Lealao’s comments. “We take stuff like that personally, and we try to use it to our advantage.”
After an first-quarter exchange of punts, Alabama took over in Vanderbilt territory and running back Bo Scarbrough dashed around left tackle for a 6-yard touchdown run.
After another Vandy punt, Harris dashed 61 yards through the left side of the defense on the drive’s second play for a 14-0 advantage.
On the Commodores’ next offensive snap, running back Khari Blasingame coughed it up, and Alabama defensive end Da’Shawn Hand recovered at the Vandy 26.
On third-and-goal from the 2 and the Crimson Tide in a jumbo formation, Harris easily dove in from 2 yards out to make it 21-0 with 42 seconds left in the first quarter.
Scarbrough added his second touchdown of the first half when he dashed into the end zone from the 2-yard line with 9:09 left in the second quarter.
Alabama had a 323-49 edge in total offense at the break, and had 19 first downs to Vanderbilt’s two.
“For us, we dug ourselves a hole early and it snowballed on us,” Mason said. “I didn’t think we did a very good job responding. We had our struggles offensively and defensively in terms of third down. Getting off the field defensively and offensively really trying to sustain anything.”
Even Saban, one of the biggest perfectionists in sports, could find little wrong with Alabama’s performance.
“I can’t say that there’s anything negative, other than that we dropped a couple of balls,” he said.
The Commodores had plenty of dropped balls of their own. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur entered Saturday leading the SEC in passing efficiency but was just 4 of 15 for 18 yards and an interception — a deflection off the hands of wide-open tight end Jared Pinkney on the game’s first drive.
NOTES: Vanderbilt was without a pair of veteran reserve cornerbacks on Saturday. Taurean Ferguson missed his fourth straight game with what’s been termed an indefinite suspension, and Bryce Lewis was not dressed due to an undisclosed injury. ... The Commodores had given up 13 total points in three games, but allowed 21 in the first quarter on Saturday. ... Alabama S Ronnie Harrison had a first-quarter interception on a ball off the hands of Vandy TE Jared Pinkney. It was the first interception that Commodores QB Kyle Shurmur had thrown this season.