ARLINGTON, Texas Alabama coach Nick Saban believes his latest talented and tenacious team took a step toward creating its own identity.
Though it felt a lot as if the 2011 Crimson Tide never left on Saturday night at Dallas Cowboys Stadium.
Dee Milliner and Alabama's defense pushed around Michigan and showed they can still dominate, manhandling the eighth-ranked Wolverines and pounding Denard Robinson in a season-opening 41-14 victory Saturday night.
Alabama had to replace most of its starters, including three first-round draft picks, from a defense that led the nation in just about everything last year and helped the Tide win its second national title in three seasons.
"I think we came out in the first game and established the kind of identity we're going to have on this team," Milliner said. "On defense, we were aggressive. On offense, we came out and attacked."
C.J. Mosley returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown for the second-ranked Tide. AJ McCarron, no longer with third overall draft pick Trent Richardson to hand the ball off to, threw two touchdown passes as Alabama won its 11th consecutive season opener.
"I don't think we were trying to send any type of message," McCarron said. "We're just trying to do what coach (Saban) preaches. And that's to go out and play our game. Do what we're supposed to do."
Milliner, the primary nickelback last season now in a starting role, deflected four passes in the first half, and had an interception after shoving intended receiver Roy Roundtree to the ground and into the Alabama sideline. That set up a touchdown for the Crimson Tide, which shot out to a 31-0 second-quarter lead.
While Michigan still can recover to contend for a Big Ten Conference title and possible Rose Bowl bid, this could be a confidence-shaking performance.
It certainly wasn't what Michigan expected coming off an 11-win season under first-year coach Brady Hoke that ended with the Wolverines' first BCS victory since the 1999 season.
"Obviously, we didn't play Michigan football, and that's something that bothers our team, bothers the coaches," Hoke said. "Win or lose your first game, you learn a lot."
The Wolverines were without suspended running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and defensive end Frank Clark, but even with them probably weren't ready for the toughest of tests.
Unfortunately for Hoke and the Wolverines, this is Alabama still at its very best. Even Saban was applauding the performance as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"This team had a challenge of trying to create an identity for itself," Saban said. "That happens over time and happens with consistency in performance. It's a big win over a very good team."
McCarron was 11 of 21 passing for 199 yards. Freshman T.J. Yeldon ran for 111 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, while Eddie Lacy had a nine-yard touchdown run.