TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Even Nick Saban sometimes has to deliver an “I told you so” to his team, along with a few other choice words.
No. 1 Alabama’s slow-starting 31-3 victory over FCS team Chattanooga on Saturday night was one of those times.
Jalen Hurts passed for three touchdowns and rushed for 68 yards, but the Crimson Tide (11-0) spotted the Mocs (8-3) the game’s first three points and didn’t really shake them until late in the third quarter. The defense had a more Bama-like performance, and hasn’t given up a touchdown in 13 quarters.
Saban’s halftime message after a week of trying to get his players to take Chattanooga seriously: “I said, ‘Do you believe me now?'”
“I’d been telling them all week,” Saban said. “The rest we’d better bleep out.”
Hurts was 15 of 21 for 136 yards a week after torching Mississippi State for 347 yards. He had a 47-yard TD pass to Calvin Ridley and added two 1-yarders to Gehrig Dieter, including one in the final minutes that made the score look a little closer to what most expected. Hurts set Alabama’s single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
Damien Harris rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown and Ridley gained 94 yards on seven catches.
Alabama wide receiver ArDarius Stewart did not play in the game, and Saban indicated he was held out because “sometimes we have players that have a violation of our standard of behavior.”
It was a milestone win for Saban, whose 41-5 record as the No. 1 team gives him the most of any coach. He had been tied with Ohio State’s Woody Hayes (40-4-1) and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden (40-5).
This one came after a string of more impressive performances against Southeastern Conference opponents.
“I worried about it all week long,” Saban said. “When you’re playing conference games every week and you’re playing big games every week, it’s really hard to get guys not to have a letdown.”
Chattanooga’s first-quarter field goal put Alabama behind for the first time since Kentucky scored the first three points on Oct. 1. The Mocs trailed just 14-3 until deep into the third quarter before Harris raced 25 yards for a touchdown.
Alejandro Bennifield completed 16 of 21 passes for 106 yards for the Mocs, who sacked Hurts three times.
“I remember playing them here in 2013 and barely recording a first down,” Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said. “They have got a really good football team, and they probably slept walked coming into this game. I am not trying to think that they were all jacked up to play Chattanooga, but our guys were pretty excited to play, and I am awful proud of them.”
Alabama wasn’t exactly pushing the Mocs around early. Chattanooga stopped two runs from the 1-yard line in the second quarter before Hurts rolled right on fourth down and hit Dieter in the end zone for a 14-3 lead.
That was set up by a muffed punt at the 9.
“I guess we just underestimated them,” Ridley said.
Chattanooga: Was almost even in total yards with Alabama midway through the third quarter. Didn’t allow a sack to a defense that came in with the most in the nation.
Alabama: It was probably the least impressive performance of the season, considering what ‘Bama is expected to do to FCS teams. Left tackle Cam Robinson and backup Korren Kirven, who started at right guard, both left late with shoulder injuries. Saban expects them to be able to play in the Iron Bowl.
Chattanooga: Came in ranked No. 11 in the FCS coaches poll and shouldn’t be judged much for this one.
Alabama: Still a lock to be No. 1 in the AP poll and playoff rankings, especially with teams behind Tide struggling.
Chattanooga: Finished the regular season and awaits its playoff fate.
Alabama: Hosts Auburn in the Iron Bowl seeking a third straight win over its in-state rival.