After defeating a top-10 opponent in the season opener, Alabama already looks like a team that will make another run at a national championship.
The Crimson Tide’s next challenge is to avoid a letdown Saturday when they host a Florida International team playing its first game of the year.
Fourth-ranked Alabama, a favorite to contend for the SEC West title, managed to overcome the hype surrounding its opening matchup with then-No. 7 Virginia Tech by earning a 34-24 victory last Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
While the score was close, the Tide dominated, yielding a few big plays which allowed the Hokies to tighten the game.
They surrendered a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a 43-yard pass on a botched coverage and a 32-yard TD run. Other than that, the Alabama defense, touted as one of the best in school history, limited Virginia Tech to 80 yards on its other 49 plays.
The offense also came out firing on all cylinders, racking up 498 yards. Greg McElroy threw for 230 in his debut as Alabama’s starting quarterback, while tailback Mark Ingram rushed for a career-high 150.
“Everyone talks about our defense, but our offense can do it too,” said Ingram, the SEC offensive player of the week. “We just want to prove that to people.”
Next up, the Tide need to prove they can keep up the intensity for a game against Florida International.
Coach Nick Saban doesn’t see this being a problem.
“I respect the people that we’re playing. I respect our opponents. I want our players to respect our opponents,” Saban said. “(Golden Panthers receiver T.Y. Hilton) is a better offensive player than anybody that we played against last week.”
While Saban insists a letdown won’t happen, that wasn’t the case a year ago.
After opening 2008 with a 34-10 win over then-No. 9 Clemson at the Georgia Dome, the Tide managed 172 yards in an uninspired 20-6 win over Tulane the following week.
“I think we just came out flat that game,” Ingram said. “Coming off a big win, we came out flat. That was a learning experience for this team. You can’t take any team for granted. You’ve got to prepare for every team the same way.
“A lot of us learned that lesson last year, and we shouldn’t have a letdown this week.”
Florida International is set to open its eighth year of football after finishing 5-7 in 2008.
The Golden Panthers, picked to finish fifth in the Sun Belt, will rely on the explosiveness of Hilton in the passing and return game.
Hilton, named to the All-Sun Belt first team and the conference’s freshman of the year in 2008, finished with 12 touchdowns - seven receiving, two rushing, one punt return, one kick return and one passing. He had a team-high 41 catches and his 1,013 receiving yards were a single-season school record.
Although Alabama could have trouble trying to slow down the dynamic Hilton, Florida International will likely face similar problems against a number of playmakers on the Tide’s high-powered offense.
“They are big, physical, strong and a very well-coached football team,” coach Mario Cristobal told the Golden Panthers’ official Web site.
This will be Florida International’s fifth game against a ranked opponent after being outscored 172-22 in losing the first four.
The Golden Panthers are 6-37 on the road since the program started in 2002, including a 38-3 loss to Alabama in 2006.