Alabama football handles Mercer 48-14 after sputtering start; JoJo Earle and Kool-Aid McKinstry impress

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama football started slow, but even with some initial issues, the Crimson Tide still rolled to victory. 

In the first game back with full-capacity allowed at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama routed the Mercer Bears 48-14 on Saturday. 

Here are observations from the game: 

Offense sputters at the start

Alabama's start on offense showed why Nick Saban wasn't the happiest with his team's practices and intensity in the week leading up to the Mercer game. 

The offense couldn't get much going early on, going three-and-out on the first series. Then on the second drive, a holding penalty stalled the offense and Bryce Young couldn't convert as he tried to hit Jameson Williams along the sideline on third-and-15. 

The first score of the game actually came via special teams when Jase McClellan scooped up a blocked punt from Chris Braswell for the score. That special teams touchdown to put the Crimson Tide up 7-0 gave the offense the boost it needed to get rolling. 

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Kool-Aid McKinstry impresses in first start

Freshman cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry got his first start Saturday and he made the most of it. 

McKinstry, a five-star prospect, grabbed an interception in his first start in the first quarter. It led to the first offensive touchdown of the day as Alabama went up 14-0 shortly after. 

McKinstry also had a pass breakup on a deep ball in the second quarter. If he doesn't make that play, with no one behind him, Mercer likely would have scored. 

Penalties aplenty 

Yellow flags often found their way onto the field Saturday. Thirteen times in the first half, to be exact. 

The Crimson Tide had six of those for 70 yards. That's in part what contributed to Alabama's slow start. By the second offensive drive, the Crimson Tide had tallied two for 25 yards. Alabama had a few pass interference penalties in the first half, too. 

Alabama took the lead in penalties right away, but then Mercer caught up. And the Bears' penalties contributed to the Crimson Tide building a lead. For example, a facemask on Mercer gave Alabama a first down on a drive it turned into a Slade Bolden 18-yard touchdown to take a 21-0 lead with 14:51 left in the second quarter. 

By the end of the first half, Mercer had more penalty yards (54) than total yards on offense (35). 

JoJo Earle has potential to be electric

You can see why Saban talks highly of the freshman receiver. 

Saban said Thursday that Earle can be special, and Earle showed flashes of that in a more expanded role against Mercer. 

By the end of the third quarter, he led all players with 130 all-purpose yards: 85 receiving and 45 off punt returns.