TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — AJ McCarron, Eddie Lacy and Alabama settled this one in the opening minutes instead of waiting for a tense finale.
Lacy rushed for three first-half touchdowns and McCarron set the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide’s single-season record for passing TDs in a decidedly drama-free 49-0 victory over Western Carolina on Saturday.
Alabama (10-1) rebounded from a loss to No. 9 Texas A&M by building a 42-0 halftime lead against the Catamounts (1-10), a Football Championship Subdivision team with two wins in as many seasons. It was the Tide’s third shutout this year.
“I was pleased with the way our guys competed in the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We went out there and tried to play to a standard and executed fairly well. Western Carolina, those guys played hard and they were a little bit outmanned, and our guys played the way we want them to play.
“Everything is ahead of us as a team.”
Alabama still left Bryant-Denny Stadium needing a couple of upsets to make a return trip to the national title game.
McCarron completed all six of his attempts for 133 yards and his 21st touchdown before exiting midway through the second quarter. Lacy ran for 99 yards on 10 carries with two 7-yard touchdowns and a 3-yarder. Neither played after halftime.
“It’s not about them, it’s about what you do, so we had to go out there and take care of business and not worry about everybody else,” McCarron said.
Cornerback Deion Belue returned a fumble 57 yards in the final seconds before halftime.
The 42 points were the most Alabama had scored in the first half since producing the same amount against Georgia State on Nov. 18, 2010.
Still hoping for a shot at a second straight national title, the Tide can secure a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 5 Georgia with a victory over rival Auburn.
This one was a welcome respite for Alabama after games against No. 8 LSU and the Aggies went down to the final minute. It followed three straight against opponents ranked in the top 15 at the time of the game, including Mississippi State.
“You’re coming off a loss; it’s easy to get distracted,” Belue said. “We handled that real well, just coming in and staying focused on what we need to do.”
Alabama outgained the Catamounts 463-163 in total yards and outrushed them 300-70. The Catamounts have lost all 14 meetings against SEC teams and haven’t beaten a Division I (FCS or FBS) opponent since topping The Citadel on Oct. 2, 2010.
“There’s a reason this place is where it’s at, at the top,” Western Carolina first-year coach Mark Speir said. “Excellent football team that we could not stop, obviously. Defensively, they pretty much had their way. They knocked us off the ball.”
Alabama reached 10 wins for the fifth season in a row, the longest such streak since the 1971-75 teams.
McCarron, who threw his first two interceptions of the season last week, broke the single-season mark set by Greg McElroy in 2010. He hit Christion Jones on a 29-yard touchdown with 8:15 left in the second quarter to cap a 99-yard drive and then became a spectator.
The junior also moved past McElroy into third place on the Tide career list with 40 touchdown passes, behind Brodie Croyle (41) and John Parker Wilson (47).
T.J. Yeldon ran for 55 yards and a touchdown on seven carries before leaving with a sprained foot. Saban said he could have returned.
Backup quarterback Blake Sims was only 2 of 6 for 27 yards in his most significant action but also rushed for 70 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown.
Wide receiver Kevin Norwood was held out of the game for an unspecified injury and backup tailback Kenyan Drake was suspended for violating team rules.
Even Alabama’s mistakes turned into Tide points. Western Carolina fumbled it right back after Jones lost the ball on a punt return, and Belue scooped it up for another score with 14 seconds left before halftime.
Alabama also drew a roughing penalty on the punt, prompting Saban to make a furious leap into the air on the sideline even with the huge lead.
Western Carolina backup quarterback Eddie Sullivan set up the Catamounts’ best scoring chance before Alabama made a fourth-down stop from the 14 late in the third quarter.
“We should have gone for the field goal and got some points,” Speir said. “That’s stupid. That’s my fault.”
Sullivan rushed for 28 yards and was 4 of 12 for 63 yards after replacing freshman Troy Mitchell.
The Tide didn’t punt until the fourth quarter. Plus, a bunch of reserves got into the game.
“We were trying to get as many guys in the game as we possibly could,” Saban said.