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Henry, Top-Ranked Tide Cruise Past Western Carolina

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henry-top-ranked-tide-cruise-past-western-carolina.jpg
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Banged up in two straight wins over SECWest bruisers, Alabama (No. 1 CFP, No. 2 AP) took a while to overwhelm alower-division team that wasn't supposed to be able to put up much of a fight.

DerrickHenry rushed for two touchdowns and scored a third on a catch, all in the firsthalf, to lead the Crimson Tide to a 48-14 victory over Western Carolina onSaturday.

TheTide (10-1) recovered from a slow start to score the final 31 points in itsfirst game since rising to No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings. FCSmember Western Carolina (7-5) scored a touchdown on the opening drive andtrailed just 17-14 early in the second quarter.

"Wedidn't have much energy in the beginning of the game," Alabama coach NickSaban said. "We didn't have much energy and enthusiasm as we came out inpregame. But as the game wore on, I thought our guys started playingbetter."

Blake Sims was 17 of 25 passing for 222 yards and twotouchdowns. He also threw an interception in the end zone to snap a 158-passstreak without one. Henry had touchdown runs of 10 and 23 yards and a 9-yardscoring reception.

Neitherplayed in the second half.

TheTide, which was coming off close wins over LSU and No. 4 Mississippi State, canclinch a spot in the SEC championship game with a victory next weekend at homeover No. 16 Auburn.

WesternCarolina popped Alabama with a 75-yard drive to open the game. The Tiderecovered a third-down fumble, but the Catamounts got a mulligan because of aninadvertent whistle by the officials.

"We came out sluggish. We weren't ready to play,"Alabama safety Landon Collins said. "They hit us with a few quick passesand moved the ball downfield on us, and (we) weren't prepared for it."

ForWestern Carolina's players, it was a big deal to play with Alabama into thesecond quarter.

"They'rejacked up," Catamounts coach Mark Speir said. "They came here to playa big game. We told them: `We came here two years ago with not a very goodfootball team. From the time we got here, we were in the 4-minute offense justtrying to shorten that game."

Alabama held out injured tailback T.J. Yeldon (ankle), widereceiver DeAndrew White (hamstring) and placekicker Adam Griffith, whose injuryhasn't been specified. Saban said all three probably could have played ifneeded.

Alabamaset a school record with 36 first downs and outgained Western Carolina 612-213in total yards.

Thegame did supply some injury scares for the Tide, which has won 15 straight atBryant-Denny Stadium.

A half-dozen players missed time after getting hurt duringthe game, including star wide receiver Amari Cooper, who played only oneseries. Cooper tied Alabama's record with 194 career catches by making three onthe drive, but didn't return after bruising his knee.

Left tackle Cam Robinson and defensive lineman A'ShawnRobinson both had sprained ankles, Saban said. He said all three are OK.

Tight end Brian Vogler was taken directly into the lockerroom after getting hurt on the opening drive of the third quarter. Saban saidhe and receiver Ardarius Stewart both have knee injuries and their status isless clear.

The game provided substantial playing time for backups. Widereceiver Chris Black had six catches for 101 yards.

Backup quarterback Jake Coker saw his first action in fourgames and completed 12 of 18 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.

TyrenJones ran for 75 yards, and Altee Tenpenny gained 64.

Western Carolina's Troy Mitchell, who started as a freshmanagainst Alabama in 2012, fared much better this time. He completed 23 of 39passes for 221 yards with a pair of scores.

Karnorris Anderson nine catches for 118 yards. TheCatamounts were held to minus-8 yards rushing.

Alabamaresponded with three touchdowns in a 5:56 span after Western Carolinacapitalized on Henry's fumble to pull within a field goal. The Tide gained 262yards in the second quarter.

"We expected them to come back, because it isAlabama," Catamounts running back Spearman Robinson said. "At thesame time, we wanted to come in and play our game."