The result was a 35-0 victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday that was more about big plays than consistent, muscle-flexing dominance for the top-ranked Crimson Tide (2-0).
The Hilltoppers (1-1) were 40-point underdogs and the sandwich opponent between top 10 teams Michigan and No. 8 Arkansas.
As such, Alabama coach Nick Saban had gone on the offensive to make sure they weren't overlooked.
"This game ended up being a little bit like I expected it to be, and probably different from what a lot of people here expected it to be," Saban said.
McCarron had two scoring tosses apiece to Christion Jones and Kevin Norwood, matching his career high. A running game that produced 232 yards against the Wolverines took a back seat to McCarron and the opportunistic defense. McCarron completed 14 of 19 passes and played all but the final few minutes.
It was close to as efficient as his MVP performance in the national title game against LSU.
"AJ's really stepped up," Jones said. "He's really picked up that weight left off from that national championship game a little bit from last year. He's overall conquered a lot of things with the passing game."
Norwood caught three passes for 92 yards.
The defense came up big, too.
The Tide forced three fumbles and a Deion Belue interception to keep Western Kentucky's offense from mounting any real scoring threats.
"It was uncharacteristic of our guys," Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart said. "Never in a million years would I have thought they would have played like this."
Kawaun Jakes competed 20 of 31 passes for 178 yards for the Hilltoppers, who also played LSU last season and lost 42-9 after keeping it close in the first half.
Alabama's starting tailback Eddie Lacy had 36 yards on nine carries while freshman T.J. Yeldon ran six times for 25 yards. The much-heralded Yeldon, who gained 111 yards against the Wolverines, also had four catches for 47 yards.
The Hilltoppers had no answer when McCarron launched balls downfield. He connected on touchdowns of 14 and 22 yards to Jones, his first career scores.
The first came in the opening 1 minute, 53 seconds, the quickest touchdown Alabama has produced since reaching the end zone 1:19 into the game against Duke in 2010.
In between, McCarron hit Norwood in stride for a 33-yarder. Norwood scored again on a 12-yard catch early in the third to make it 28-0.
Defensive end Damion Square figures the quick start was evidence that the team got Saban's weeklong message.
"It's natural for us to take someone lightly that everybody's taking lightly," Square said. "It's something he didn't want to seep inside our locker room. He wanted everybody to be focused on this game. We came into this game with the right attitude. We came out and really got started, created turnovers early and scored some early points."
The numbers weren't as lopsided as the final score thanks largely to the turnovers.
Alabama outgained Western Kentucky 328-224. The Tide ran for 103 yards, but limited the Hilltoppers to 28 rushes for 46 yards.
Western Kentucky actually had one more first down (12) than the Tide in the first three quarters.
Alabama's star-studded offensive line held a 45-pound-a-man advantage over Western Kentucky's defensive front. But the visitors from the Sun Belt Conference still sacked McCarron six times.
Quanterus Smith had three of the sacks.
"We didn't do a very good job in pass protection, having six sacks and three or four of those were just guys getting beat," Saban said.
The Tide managed to end Western Kentucky's 10-year, 120-game streak without getting shut out despite playing without two injured defensive stars, cornerback Dee Milliner (strained hip flexor) and nose guard Jesse Williams, who was held out as a precaution after waking up with a bad headache.
Alabama tacked on a touchdown in the final minutes with the help of some unexpected trickery.
Punter Cody Mandell ran for a first down to convert a fake on fourth-and-18 with less than four minutes to go, pushing the ball across midfield. McCarron had been sacked on the previous two plays.
Running back Jalston Fowler was helped off the field with a left knee injury in the final minutes. He was carted toward the locker room and will have an MRI on Sunday, Saban said.
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