TUSCALOOSA _ It was a play that University of Alabama redshirt freshman quarterback A.J. McCarron will never forget, only he also didn't see it.
The plan was for him to enter Saturday's game in the second quarter and with 12:21 to go he had just completed his first collegiate attempt, an 11-yard gain to junior Julio Jones. So with first-and-10 at the 29, San Jose was looking for a run only Alabama sent a message to every future opponent.
"We tried to take some things that would complement our running game, would be helpful to people not being able to load the box," Coach Nick Saban explained. "We get certain looks he can throw it out there, he's a great big target and is good running with the ball."
When Jones cut up the middle, McCarron "let it rip," with the wide receiver making a one-handed catch and falling into the end zone.
"I could not see it and then I heard the crowd," McCarron said of his first touchdown pass. "I just started freaking out."
Jones said he knew that the review of the play wouldn't change the ruling, "I knew I had caught it," he said, and added that it was the best catch of his career "in a game."
"It was unbelievable, what a great catch," said McElroy, who had a good view of it and said to himself, "I can't believe he caught it."
Of course, the veteran also couldn't help but tease McCarron a little too.
"We kind of had a running joke," McElroy said. "I was giving A.J. a hard time about it and said, 'Well, if I was in there he wouldn't have had to dive for it.'"
A slew of new starters
Alabama had 10 players make their first collegiate starts.
On offense: guard Chance Warmack, tackle D.J. Fluker, running back Trent Richardson.
On defense: defensive end Damion Square, defensive end Luther Davis, strongside linebacker Chavis Williams, weakside linebacker Jerrell Harris, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback DeQuan Menzie and free safety Robert Lester.
Also, on special teams: snapper Carson Tinker, punter Jay Williams, kicker Cade Foster, punter Cody Mandell and kicker Jeremy Shelley.
"I thought the kickers did a fine job," Saban said. "We did it as planed. Shelley was going to kick the short stuff and Cade was going to kick the long stuff, but after a certain point in the game we were going to let Cade get more experience kicking everything, so he had the opprotunity to kick some. He did a good job of kicking off except for the one kick that was a little short. He kind of undercut it."
Foster made field goals of 41 and 24 yards and averaged 67 yards on kickoffs with one touchback.
Mandell had three punts for a 40.7 average, but two for 52 yards with good hang time.
Junior linebacker Courtney Upshaw sprained his right ankle and might miss a couple of days of practice.
Upshaw sustained the injury on the first defensive play of the second quarter and despite hobbling waived off trainers only to eventually come out anyway. After getting taped up he returned in vain, only to end up in the locker room to have it treated.
Junior guard Barrett Jones did have a "little sprain" this last week, but didn't miss any playing time. Fluker aggravated an ankle injury, but could have stayed in the game.
Hardie Buck, who was a special-teams regular, appeared to get shook up on the opening kickoff of the second half.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Brandon Moore did not suit up for the game due to a secondary NCAA violation committed during last season that required a one-game suspension. Otherwise, he would have played Saturday. Filling in for him was junior-college transfer Brandon Lewis.
Sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower on his first game after last year's knee injury: "It felt really good to get back out there and get into my role as a defensive leader. I felt good about the game plan." He finished with three tackles.
As part of the celebration for the opening of the South End Zone expansion all former players were honored before kickoff.
San Jose State running back Brandon Rutley on playing at Bryant-Denny Stadium: "I was glad to be back home playing in front of my family in this atmosphere," he said. "Most of my family was here since I am from Tuscaloosa, so I was happy to see them. The fans are crazy and the stadium is so loud which made it exciting to play in."
Team captains were seniors Greg McElroy, Luther Davis and James Carpenter. Former fullback Kevin Turner was the honorary captain.
The temperature was 81 degrees at kickoff, and 69 heading into the fourth quarter.