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McCarron, Alabama Stay Focused Against Georgia State

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After catching 59 receptions for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, Amari Cooper only has nine receptions for 100 yards this season. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.
After catching 59 receptions for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, Amari Cooper only has nine receptions for 100 yards this season. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

After another week of off-the-field distractions, suspensions and injuries, could Alabama coach Nick Saban and the coaching staff get the players to focus on beating Georgia State, one of the worst teams in FBS football, when the Tide was a 56-point favorite? Would the defense continue to play at a high level after shutting out Ole Miss, 25-0, last weekend? How many young players would get a chance to play in the game?

Here are five takeaways from the 45-3 win over Georgia State.

Would Alabama Take The Game Seriously?

The Tide dominated the game from the opening whistle. Alabama bolted to a 21-0 first-quarter lead and never looked back. Tide quarterback AJ McCarron finished the first quarter 10-of-10 for 96 yards with two touchdown passes. McCarron threw two more touchdowns in the second quarter before retiring for the day, completing 15-of-16 for 166 yards. The senior quarterback completed 93.8 percent of his passes on Saturday, which broke a school record of 84.2 percent set by Ken Stabler in 1966.

How Would The Alabama Defense Respond?

The Panthers did not cross its own 39-yard line and gained a total of 20 yards in the first half. The Tide defensive front was especially dominant as they held Georgia State to 15 yards rushing on 22 attempts (an average of 0.7 yards per carry). Nose tackle Brandon Ivory, playing between two All-SEC preseason players in Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan (held out due to a shoulder injury) blew up several run plays in the first quarter.

This defense the last three games has not resembled the one that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel shredded three weeks ago. The unit only has allowed nine points since. The Panthers managed a 53-yard field goal Saturday and gained 175 total yards. According to Andrew Gribble of AL.com, the Alabama defensive numbers have improved dramatically: The Tide now sit second in the SEC and sixth nationally in rush defense, second in the SEC and 12th nationally in total defense (299 yards per game) and first in the SEC and fourth nationally in scoring defense (12.2 points per game).

'Bama's Best Unit? Special Teams

In five games, the Crimson Tide has scored on two Christion Jones returns and a blocked punt return by Dillon Lee against Colorado State. Kickoff and punt return coverage units have been exceptional with Landon Collins and Lee leading a host of headhunters. Punter Cody Mandell is averaging 46.7 yards per attempt and the punt coverage team had downed a kick inside the 1-yard line for two consecutive weeks. Cade Foster is 5-for-6 this season, including a 27-yard field goal against the Panthers, and has been consistent on kickoffs.

Where's Amari Cooper?

Two Alabama quarterbacks, McCarron and Blake Sims, completed passes to 14 receivers. Amari Cooper, preseason All-American did not catch one pass. Cooper played briefly, but neither quarterback threw him a pass. Cooper has been playing with a turf toe injury which has limited his playing time.

McCarron was asked after the game why Cooper was not duplicating his receiving numbers (59 catches for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns) from last season.

“I'm going to throw the ball to receivers who are getting open, because they have been working their tail off,” Cooper said.

Is there a hidden message in his comment? DeAndrew White and Christion Jones are emerging as McCarron's top receivers after five games. White's 10-yard circus catch for a touchdown in the first quarter will make the season highlight DVD. Cooper has nine receptions for 100 yards this season, while Jones has 20 catches for 232 yards and White has 15 catches for 212 yards.

How Many Freshman Would Alabama Play Against Georgia State?

Twelve true freshmen saw action Saturday along with seven redshirt freshmen. Four true freshmen earned starts, including defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson (for the injured Pagan), long snapper Cole Mazza, tight end O.J. Howard and cornerback Eddie Jackson. Fans who eagerly anticipated the debut of wide receiver Chris Black (who missed last season with an injury) were not disappointed. The talented Jacksonville, Fla., native caught a game-high six passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive lineman Grant Hill also made his debut. Travis Reier, senior editor of Bamaonline.com was more than impressed with the Huntsville, Ala., native's first game:

“As the afternoon moved along, you saw flashes of Hill's great potential with some first-game mistakes mixed in,” Reier said. “I saw enough to think he may be the most athletic offensive lineman on Alabama's roster. Not next year, but right now. Hill's feet are good enough to play left tackle in the SEC, although his body type lends itself more to right tackle or guard.”

Freshman linebacker Tim Williams saw action in his second game, drawing praise for his size and athleticism. Two talented freshman running backs saw additional action. Derrick Henry finished as the second-leading rusher with five carries for 50 yards. Altee Tenpenny picked up 10 yards on four carries.

Up next: at Kentucky, 6 p.m. CDT (ESPNU)