TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Hilltoppers never gave themselves a chance.
Western Kentucky lost three fumbles and threw an interception in a 35-0 loss at No. 1 Alabama on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Three of those turnovers came in the first 191⁄2 minutes of the game and allowed the Crimson Tide to get out to a 21-0 lead.
“We’ve seen that in every game we’ve lost in the past four years I’ve been here,” senior tight end Jack Doyle said. “We turn the ball over, we lose. That was obviously what happened today.”
Western Kentucky held Alabama to 103 yards rushing but couldn’t contain A.J. McCarron. The junior quarterback threw for 219 yards on 14 of 19 passing and tied a career high with four touchdown throws.
Three of those TDs came directly after WKU turned the ball over.
“At the end of the day, that’s what it all boils down to,” WKU coach Willie Taggart said. “We wanted to play good defense, stop the run and not turn the ball over. We did totally opposite of what we wanted to do. We played the No. 1 team in the country and whenever you turn the ball over, you limit yourself opportunities.”
Alabama went 72 yards in 1:53 to go up 7-0 on the game’s opening possession. McCarron hit Christion Jones on a 14-yard toss to cap the series.
The Tops fumbled away their first two possessions – the first drop by Marquis Sumler and the second by Antonio Andrews at his own 33.
The latter allowed McCarron to go play-action, hitting Kevin Norwood on a 33-yard post to the end zone.
“It was uncharacteristic of our guys, and not in a million years would I have thought they would have done that today,” Taggart said. “I thought we were locked into the game plan and the goals of what we wanted to do. We just didn’t get it done.”
Bad got worse on the next possession. Despite WKU driving to the Alabama 19, this time it was Kawaun Jakes who fumbled while being sacked by Xzavier Dickson.
The Tide took over at their own 32 and went 68 yards in seven plays, the final one being a McCarron loft into the right corner that Jones bobbled but hauled in for six.
“Our defense played well enough for us to win this ballgame, or be in this ballgame a lot closer than what it was,” Taggart said. “Our offense moved the ball and then we shot ourselves in the foot. That takes a lot away from the entire football team.”
The second half wasn’t much better for the visitors.
Jakes started the third quarter by rolling to his right and looking for Doyle in the flat. Instead of throwing the ball away when seeing a covered Doyle, however, Jakes lofted the ball over the head of his senior tight end to the Crimson Tide’s Deion Belue.
A face-mask penalty on Belue’s return took the ball to the 12, where, after one play, McCarron found Norwood open in the end zone for another easy scoring catch, making it 28-0.
Kenyan Drake added a 32-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.
Norwood had three catches for 92 yards while Jones caught three balls for 47 yards – each scored a pair of TDs. Eddie Lacy led Alabama in rushing with 36 yards on nine carries.
Jakes was 20 of 31 passing for 177 yards with a pick, while Doyle caught seven passes for 45 yards. Andrews led the team in rushing with 27 yards.
Quanterus Smith had three of WKU’s six sacks, netting a loss of 27 yards.
The Tops head to Kentucky next week.
“35-0?” Smith said. “We feel like we can play a lot better than that. We’re going to go look at film and see what we did wrong. Looking forward to Kentucky.”
Western Kentucky had not been shut out since Sept. 14, 2002, at Western Illinois (14-0).