McElwain’s return to Bryant-Denny Stadium ended with a 31-6 loss, but that didn’t stop the emotions from running rampant when he embraced his former players.
“I had to catch myself a little bit,” McElwain said. “Those guys meant a lot to me. I loved them and I’m just so proud of them. Guys like Kenny (Bell), AJ (McCarron), Christion (Jones), and on and on -- they were a big part of my life. I owe a lot to them, and I’m proud to be able to say I was their coach at one time.”
McElwain also praised the place he called home for four seasons as offensive coordinator of two national championship teams.
“The University of Alabama is an unbelievable place,” McElwain said. “The outpouring for me personally from so many people meant so much to myself and my family. Alabama is a class place. At the same time, I am very proud of my team.”
As The Anniston Star reported Friday, sophomore T.J. Yeldon was suspended for the first quarter and did not start Saturday.
Jalston Fowler replaced Yeldon in the starting lineup. Kenyan Drake was the No. 2 running back and scored the game’s opening touchdown.
Yeldon rode a stationary bike on the sideline to stay loose. He checked in with eight minutes left in the second quarter. He touched the ball for the first time on his second play in and burst to the outside for a 38-yard gain.
Yeldon finished with 49 yards on seven carries.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper did not play a single snap Saturday because of injury. Cooper stood on the sidelines in full pads without his helmet and never entered the offensive huddle.
“Cooper’s toe was bothering him,” Saban said. “We just felt like ‘We’re not going to push it. We’re not going to take a chance on playing the guy.’”
Cooper practiced all week and showed no signs of potentially not playing.
This was just be precautionary because Cooper is still dealing with a strained foot. Cooper hurt his foot during preseason practice and missed some time.
He said he entered the season at “95 percent” and whenever he was asked about the foot during interviews, he always said, “I can play on it.”
DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell started at wide receiver.
Players who didn’t dress
Wide receiver Kevin Norwood (lower leg, foot), cornerback Deion Belue (toe), and safeties Nick Perry (shoulder) and Jarrick Williams (eye) did not dress out. Norwood and Belue were listed as “questionable” during the week and did not practice. They rode stationary bikes and wore black, non-contact jerseys.
Perry and Williams practiced throughout the week.
During his pregame radio show, Saban said Williams has a “serious eye issue.”
“Jarrick Williams got poked in the eye during the last game,” Saban said. “His eye bled. He lost his vision. He was not cleared to play. He was not cleared to practice. We’re going to reexamine it on Monday.”
Saban said Perry hurt his shoulder in practice.
DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell filled in for Norwood.
Bradley Sylve and freshman Eddie Jackson started at cornerback. Jackson didn’t play in the first two games. Geno Smith started at the “star” position, Alabama’s fifth defensive back in nickel and dime packages.
John Fulton, Cyrus Jones and freshman Maurice Smith also rotated in at cornerback.
Right guard Anthony Steen dressed out, but did not play. Kellen Williams started at right guard in place of Steen, who practiced during the week. On Wednesday, Saban said Steen would play.
“He had a headache today when he went out in pregame,” Saban said. “We just felt like, ‘We’re not playing the guy. We’re not going to take a chance on playing a guy.’”
The senior watched from the sideline and never entered the offensive huddle. Saban didn’t disclose Steen’s injury during the week.
Running back Kenyan Drake blocked a punt and linebacker Dillion Lee was able to pick up the ball and run it in for a touchdown. With Lee’s score, Alabama now has five non-offensive touchdowns on the season.
“Those plays are huge in a game where we’re having trouble scoring points,” Saban said. “We only scored 10 points going into the fourth quarter on offense. Special teams has to be a real positive for us. … We have to keep doing those kinds of things. We have to find ways to do it and take advantage of it.”
In the season opener against Virginia Tech, wide receiver Christion Jones returned a punt and kick for a touchdown. Safety Vinnie Sunseri intercepted Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas and returned it for a touchdown. Sunseri also had an interception return for a touchdown against Texas A&M.