ARLINGTON, Texas – Dee Milliner and the Alabama defense pushed around Michigan and showed it can still dominate.
Even after sending three starting defenders from last season’s national championship team to the NFL as first-round draft picks, the second-ranked Crimson Tide manhandled eighth-ranked Michigan while pounding Denard Robinson in a season-opening 41-14 victory Saturday night.
C.J. Mosley returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown for the Tide. AJ McCarron, who no longer has third overall draft pick Trent Richardson to take handoffs, threw two touchdowns as Alabama won its 11th consecutive season opener.
“I personally don’t think we were trying to send any type of message,” McCarron said. “We’re just trying to do what coach (Nick Saban) preaches. And that’s to go out and play our game. Do what we’re supposed to do.”
Milliner, the primary nickel back last season now in a starting role, deflected four passes in the first half, and had an interception after shoving intended receiver Roy Roundtree to the ground and into the Alabama sideline. That set up a touchdown for the Crimson Tide, which shot out to a 31-0 lead.
While Michigan still can recover to contend for a Big Ten title and possible Rose Bowl bid, this could be a confidence-shaking performance. It certainly wasn’t what Michigan expected coming off an 11-win season under first-year coach Brady Hoke that ended with the Wolverines’ first BCS bowl victory since the 1999 season.
“Obviously, we didn’t play Michigan football, and that’s something that bothers our team, bothers the coaches,” Hoke said. “Win or lose your first game, you learn a lot.”
They were without suspended running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and defensive end Frank Clark, but even with them probably weren’t ready for this tough test.
Unfortunately for Hoke and the Wolverines, this is Alabama – still at its very best.
Even Saban was applauding the performance as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“This team had a challenge of trying to create an identity for itself,” Saban said. “I think they took a step in that direction. That happens over time and happens with consistency in performance. It’s a big win over a very good team.”
McCarron was 11-of-21 passing for 199 yards. Freshman T.J. Yeldon ran for 111 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, while Eddie Lacy had a 9-yard TD run.
It was a tough night for Robinson, even though he accounted for both Michigan touchdowns. Most of his 200 yards passing (on 11-for-26 accuracy) came on two plays – a 71-yard pass before halftime that came before his 6-yard TD run and his 44-yard scoring pass to Devin Gardner in the third quarter.
Robinson, held to 27 yards rushing on 10 carries, showed his toughness when he didn’t miss a snap immediately after being hurt on a fourth-down run in the third quarter.
The Heisman hopeful got hurt when he stretched and landed awkwardly trying to lunge for a first down on a fourth-and-3 play. He appeared to reach for his lower back while on the field, where he remained for several minutes before being helped up and then walking gingerly off the field. He was taken to the locker room for evaluation. But he was back in the Michigan huddle later in the game.
The crowd of 90,413 was the largest ever to see a college game at Cowboys Stadium, where the crowd was distinctly split by fans in crimson and those in maize.