TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was a night for those who love and celebrate college football history.
|Nick Saban, who defeats Joe Paterno, says 'he's the kind of coach that all of us young coaches aspire to be.' (AP)|
• The ageless Joe Paterno, Division I-A football's all-time winner (with 395 victories) who will turn 84 years old in December, walked the sidelines of Bryant-Denny probably for the last time. Saturday night's Penn State-Alabama game, the 14th in the series, came 28 years after Paterno coached his last game against his friend Paul "Bear" Bryant in 1982.
"Somebody asked me if I thought I had coached against Coach Paterno for the last time," said Alabama coach Nick Saban. "Somebody asked me that 15 years ago when I was at Michigan State. And he's still here."
• The pre-game photo was one for the scrapbook: Saban, coach of the defending national champions, stood with Paterno and former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who was invited to the game. Bowden, second to Paterno on the wins list, is a native of Birmingham and had not been in this stadium as a fan since 1948, the year he was being recruited to Alabama as a high school senior.
"I'm just here to give Joe a hard time," said Bowden, who turns 81 in November. "He's not a spring chicken like me."
"To have those three coaches together on our field was something really special," said Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, whose mother graduated from Florida State, so he sought out Bowden before the game.
• Alabama fans can be a rowdy bunch, especially when an SEC opponent comes to town. In fact, Saban had encouraged his own fans not to boo out of respect for Paterno. The request was not necessary. Alabama fans have always had a soft spot in their collective heart for Paterno, who greatly admired Bryant. You couldn't have found two men with more opposite backgrounds. Bryant was a poor boy from Arkansas. Paterno was an Italian kid from Brooklyn. But both became the very best at what they did. Paterno received a standing ovation as he went to the locker room at halftime.
• Paterno was 0-4 against the Bear, including a 14-7 loss for the 1978 national championship in the Sugar Bowl.
"The Alabama people know what a great football coach is supposed to look like because they had the Bear for 25 years," said Bowden, who considered Bryant a mentor and almost left Florida State for Alabama in 1987. "There ain't many like Joe."
|More on PSU-Alabama|
Saban seconded that.
"I don't consider myself a young coach but relative to Coach Paterno I guess I am," Saban said. "But he's the kind of coach that all of us young coaches aspire to be."
• And if that trip down memory lane wasn't enough for the 101,821 who came out on a muggy night there was this: Sept. 11 will always be a significant date on the American calendar for obvious reasons. But it is also Bear Bryant's birthday. He would have been 97 years old.
And just so you'll know, he was here. He'll always be here.
Now once the game started the time for nostalgia was over. Alabama had another BCS title to pursue. And the Crimson Tide was simply overwhelming in their athleticism and efficiency in a 24-3 victory. Alabama compiled 409 yards of offense in only 58 plays (7.8 yards per play), while the defense held Penn State to only 283 yards and forced three turnovers.
And Alabama played the game without two of its very best players. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram had his knee scoped 12 days ago and sat out for the second successive game. He may get in for a few snaps during next week's game at Duke. But the goal is to have Ingram ready for the all-important SEC opener at Arkansas on Sept. 25.
While the Heisman Trophy winner rested, sophomore Trent Richardson showed why the whole world wanted him coming out of Escambia High School (Emmitt Smith's old school) in Pensacola two years ago. Richardson had eight carries for 92 yards in the first quarter alone. He finished the game with 144 yards.
"I thought Trent Richardson had a fantastic game," Saban said.
"He showed he could carry the load tonight," McElroy added.
Defensive end Marcell Dareus sat out his second game on NCAA suspension. Dareus, the defensive MVP of the BCS Championship Game against Texas, attended the now infamous agents party in South Florida. He paid back over $1,700 in travel expenses.
Most teams would be vulnerable without two such players. But Alabama, which has now won 16 consecutive games, is not most football teams. "Alabama deserved to win it," Paterno said. "They were the better football team today, a better coached team today. They outcoached us and outplayed us."
Penn State hoped to run the ball and control the clock with Evan Royster, who entered the game needing 441 yards to break the Penn State career record. But Alabama simply was not going to let that happen. Alabama was content to hold Royster in check (nine carries, 32 yards) and gamble that a true freshman quarterback was not going to beat them in Tuscaloosa.
Rob Bolden, the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Paterno, had looked good at home last week in the opener against Youngstown State. But as an old coach once said: "Playing in front of 101,000 of yours, is a lot different than playing in front of 101,000 of theirs."
Bolden suffered a pair of interceptions inside the Alabama 20-yard line. Before the game, the record showed that a true freshman quarterback had never beaten the No. 1 team in the land. After the game that streak is still intact.
"I think we did some things to confuse him," safety Mark Barron said.
So Alabama moves on, hoping to post its third consecutive 12-0 regular season and become the first team since Nebraska (1994-95) to win back-to-back consensus national championships. And right now it's hard to see who is going to stop the Crimson Tide.
The trip to Arkansas on Sept. 25 will be interesting because of the big right arm of Ryan Mallett. The way Florida's offense is struggling you have to like Alabama's chances here on Oct. 2. But now an Oct. 9 trip to South Carolina looks interesting. After beating Georgia on Saturday, Steve Spurrier looks like he could make some noise in the SEC this season.
Stay tuned. This could be fun.
Watch The Tony Barnhart Show every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on the CBS College Sports Network.