By Scott Latta
UA Media Relations
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. Alabama used a 23-point first quarter to roll past Houston Saturday, capitalizing on a balanced offensive attack for a homecoming win over the Cougars at Bryant-Denny Stadium, 30-24.
Alabama did the bulk of its damage in the first quarter, orchestrating scoring drives of 80, 66 and 85 yards, with junior quarterback John Parker Wilson throwing a pair of 23-yard touchdown passes in the period and sneaking in a score from one yard out on the Tide’s opening drive.
After taking the early 7-0 lead, senior Wallace Gilberry sacked Houston quarterback Blake Joseph in the end zone on the ensuing Cougar possession for a safety to extend the Alabama lead to nine.
Alabama had 201 total yards in the first quarter alone and allowed Houston only four, controlling the ball for more than 12 of the first 15 minutes and grinding out 124 rushing yards in the period for the early 23-point lead.
“Anytime someone runs an offense like [Houston’s], you’re going to have the opportunity to come back in games and you’re never ahead far enough,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said.
After three weeks of the Alabama offense orchestrating late-game scoring drives to keep the Tide in the game, this time it was the defense’s turn to prevent Houston from doing the same thing. After a first-half touchdown, the Cougars added a field goal and two more TDs in the second half while holding the Alabama offense to only 74 second-half yards, drawing to within six with three minutes to go.
But the Alabama defense came up big on Houston’s last two offensive drives, picking off a pair of Case Keenum passes one in the end zone as time expired by Simeon Castille to preserve the win.
“It was just a big-time player making a big-time play,” said junior Rashad Johnson, who recorded Alabama’s other interception, of Castille’s game-saving play. “It’s something he’s been doing since he’s been here and there’s no other guy I’d rather be over there trying to make a play but him.”
After coming into the game last in the SEC in sacks with five, Alabama doubled that total Saturday, busting through the Houston offensive line for five in the game. After recording a pair of sacks, Gilberry who led the Alabama defense with 11 tackles on the day and 4.5 tackles for losses said the Alabama coaching staff didn’t necessarily stress getting extra pressure against the Cougars, but that the Alabama defense simply wanted it more.
“We started out with pressure and we ended with pressure,” Gilberry said. “There was never a doubt...It’s all want-to. Somebody made the statement to me that we were the last in the SEC in sacks and we take that as a challenge. This whole season we’ve been getting challenged every Monday and we take on all challenges.”
In his first career start for Alabama, sophomore Glen Coffee ran for 121 yards on 30 carries, with a four-yard touchdown in the second half to extend Alabama’s lead to 30-10.
Wilson finished the day 15-of-27 for 157 yards and two touchdowns. With three catches for 19 yards, Tide senior DJ Hall set the Alabama career receptions record, breaking former Alabama receiver Freddie Milons’ record for career receptions, with 153. Coffee had six catches for 30 yards and junior tight end Nick Walker had two catches for 43 yards.
“I didn’t find out about the record until later on,” Hall said. “But that’s no problem to me. I’m not worried about the record.”
Alabama travels to Oxford, Miss., next week to face the Ole Miss Rebels. Kickoff is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and will be broadcast by Lincoln Financial Sports.