ARLINGTON, Texas -- Alabama's opening game unlocked one mystery and confirmed several things already known about its team.
Jake Coker is the Crimson Tide's top option at quarterback and handled himself well, completing 15 of 21 passes for 213 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. His supporting cast, meanwhile, handled themselves even better.
Alabama dominated the run on both sides of the ball, received a huge performance from Derrick Henry (13 carries, 147 rush yards, three touchdowns) and several defensive standouts, and pulled away from No. 20 Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium on Saturday.
After an evenly matched first half, Alabama dominated the third quarter en route to a 35-17 win. Wisconsin had some bright spots in coach Paul Chryst's debut, namely the play of senior quarterback Joel Stave in the first half (14-of-16 passing, 149 yards, one touchdown). But the Badgers' ineptness in their signature strength -- the run game averaged just 1.9 yards per carry and finished with only 40 yards -- led to another loss to an SEC West team in a highly anticipated opener played in the state of Texas.
What the win means for Alabama: The Tide can build around Coker, who made good decisions throughout the game and showed accuracy on short and intermediate routes. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin made excellent halftime adjustments, feeding Henry early, mixing in tempo and rotating personnel in the backfield. Alabama's defense talked all offseason about reviving the intimidation factor. The Crimson Tide bottled up running back Corey Clement, slowed by a groin injury, and Wisconsin's run game. Defensive end Jonathan Allen (two sacks) was dominant, and the linebackers pursued well. The Tide will need Coker to be a bigger factor in SEC play, but they can go a long way on defense and the run game, too.
What the loss means for Wisconsin: It's another reminder the Badgers are not a nationally elite program, but a team that can still win the Big Ten's West Division. Chryst has had an immediate impact on Stave, who settled into a nice rhythm in the first half despite no help from the run game. Wisconsin likely won't face a defensive line as talented as Alabama's the rest of the season, but a green offensive line needs work. The run game will always be Wisconsin's focal point, as well as getting Clement healthy and on track after a truncated debut as the starter. Wisconsin's defense held up for a while without star safety Mike Caputo, who left early with a head injury. But Alabama's speed, size and skill proved to be way too much in the second half.
Player of the game: Henry. His size-speed combination is unique in college football, and he capitalized on his first opportunity as Alabama's featured running back. The junior sliced through the middle of Wisconsin's defense and raced for touchdowns of 56 and 37 yards. He also had small role as a receiver out of the backfield, which could expand. Tide fans long have clamored for Henry to get more touches. They should get their wish this season.
The game turned when ... Glass-half-full Badger fans will point to Rafael Gaglianone's missed 34-yard field-goal attempt just before halftime and wonder what might have been. Wisconsin would have received the second-half kickoff trailing only 14-10. But Alabama took control early in the third quarter on Henry's 56-yard touchdown run and put the game out of reach by injecting tempo on a 7-play, 67-yard scoring drive that took only 2:10.