Alabama demolished the Louisville Cardinals with unexpected ease on a warm night in Orlando. The final score of 51-14 did not indicate just how badly they beat them. Everyone expected Alabama to mill around in the first half and slowly pull away in the second but instead Alabama dominated the first half and then messed around the second half to let Louisville actually move the ball and score but even then the only way they moved the ball was for Alabama to give them free 3rd down conversions so they were never a threat to get back in the game.
Alabama entered the season with a young defense and a rookie defensive coordinator, some growing pains were expected. Alabama was especially inexperienced in the secondary where only one player had played significantly and that player only at the end of 2017. The secondary actually looked better than I expected. There were a few blown coverage for sure but not nearly what I expected. What I didn’t expect was disarray from Alabama’s relatively experienced linebacker corps. Last year Alabama had to play every scholarship player except for Markail Benton and I was hoping that experience would pay dividends. I still think it will but it didn’t show as much Saturday night.
Middle linebackers Dylan Moses and Mac Wilson appeared lost and confused at times. They did stuff the run completely but Louisville’s run game is about as strong as proper English in Chinatown. Mac Wilson exited the game in the second half with an injury that was apparently not serious and was replaced with Markail Benton who got his first no trash time snaps. On the outside Christian Miller was mostly invisible except when he drew an unnecessary roughing penalty against the guy who was obviously eating his lunch all night. His struggles at this point suggest Alabama may be in a bit of trouble outside in wake of the injuries to Terrell Lewis and Chris Allen. Nick Saban does not historically like to expose many true freshman in this first game and did not get freshman outside linebacker Eyabi Anoma on the field. That will probably change in week two so he will get an opportunity to start eating into Millers playing time if he can. On the other end Anfernee Jennings made a triumphant return from an injury that almost cost him his leg against Clemson last season. Jennings is probably only playing at 85% but he was still more disruptive than Miller. I hope he will get better throughout the season and become a force. Overall it was a rough night for the linebackers.
On the defensive line they appeared to be somewhat held in check in the first half but after halftime they turned up the volume and began to overwhelm the Cardinals. Quinnen Williams who started his first game at nose guard had a pretty good game causing problems in the middle on multiple occasions. Phis Mathis replaced him after an injury and got his first meaningful snaps. Williams returned later on to nearly get a safety. Davis and Buggs were likely being double-teamed all night so Williams may find himself facing only one man all season.
The secondary was highlighted by Deionte Thompson, the only player with significant experience. He might be the most athletic of the safeties that Saban has had. He was simply a wild man Saturday closing gaps too fast for Louisville to adjust to and giving heavy support on tackles. Shyheim Carter got an easy pick which he added a good return to. Overall they allowed a significant amount of yards passing but they kept it between the 20’s to the point that it didn’t matter. A similar result going forward could have the secondary playing a bit above expectations but we will have to see.
Of course all the talk before the game was about the quarterback and as expected Tua Tagovailoa started the game and got most of the first team snaps. He showed that the national championship game was no fluke as he was even better in this game. How good was he? He was throwing completions at a 75% clip. The highest season completion percentage in Alabama history is Greg McElroys 2010 season which was 70%. He threw for 14.2 yards per attempt. The highest career mark is held by Garry Rutledge but that was a wishbone offense where each and every pass was a surprise attack. The highest mark in a pro offense was AJ McCarron’s 2012 season in which he passed for 10.3 yards per attempt. Quite simply if Tua can play this good or better all season he will re-write the Alabama passing record book this season. In fact it goes against all conventional wisdom that Alabama would have a quarterback this good. These are the sorts of guys Alabama is forced to face, not the sort of guys who we actually have. I still expect to wake up from this dream at some point to see another terrible QB under center watching receivers streak into open field only for them to throw the ball out of bounds or just take sacks. Please don’t wake me.
Jalen Hurts who is now officially the backup was unfortunately the same guy we’ve seen for two seasons. A good athlete who simply cannot see receivers. As before he had wide open options for big yards right in front of him and he simply isn’t seeing them. At this point I can see no point in playing him unless Tua gets hurt and frankly he is so limited in Ability I think Alabama would have no chance with him under center. Alabama in my opinion should make Mac Jones the #2 quarterback and get him prepared to play if needed. If Jones gets more reps this week than Hurts you may be seeing the writing on the wall that Hurt’s time with the Tide is at an end.
The running game was solid if unspectacular. All the rushers had good moments with Damien Harris as usual coming up with the biggest run of the night. It was good to see Joshua Jacobs looking so strong after wondering last season if he would even make it back after the injury riddled season. Najee Harris played and played well. His stats were less spectacular but he got the majority of the red zone snaps so you have to adjust for that. He’s also not 100%, lets see how he does in another two weeks.
The wide receivers were excellent and appear to be deep with talent. Adding to the guys we have back is freshman Jaylen Waddle who is a small slot type receiver with scorching speed and quickness. He has game breaker written all over him and barring injury I expect him to be a superstar this season for the Crimson Tide. Alabama with him now has a serious threat in the return game and another huge deep threat to go along with Smith and Ruggs who are all extremely fast. This is not to discount Jerry Jeudy at all who might be as good as anyone. There are even more guys we didn’t see that I think can play. Alabama is very dep at wide receiver.
Overall the offense is way ahead of where we are used to seeing them at this point and the defense is not impenetrable but is very fast and athletic. If they improve every week and the offense stays healthy the sky is the limit for this team. The SEC appears to be loaded this season. It’s going to be a long tough road.