Alabama began the season sputtering on offense. Suspensions to the only running backs who have played in a college game for sure had something to do with it and the offensive line’s interior is still in flux. Additionally we have to give some credit to the Duke defense and David Cutcliffe who is a really resourceful coach and he had some stunts going that confused the linemen. After the first quarter they found their rhythm in the passing game and Duke had no luck stopping them from then on. With everyone healthy only a few schools we play will be able to stop this passing attack, the concern however was the weak running game thus far. One of the primary complaints about offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is the anemic running game he had in Atlanta. Now Atlanta had zip for running backs while he was there so you have the chicken and the egg argument. It remains to be seen if his offense is too one sided or if the runners and lineman just flat did not get it done. The offense is essentially a west coast offense with Run Pass Options added in. This isn’t much different from what we ran last year but Sark will probably run fewer RPO’s compared to former OC Mike Loxley. What I hope to see in this was somewhat evident on the field in that the offense produced more intermediate plays that keep drives going and chew clock. Scoring fast looks good on TV but in the grand scheme of things it’s the drives that kill the other team. As for balance Tua passed 31 times and the top three running backs carried 31 times so despite the games pass happy feel it was essentially balanced. We also saw two tight ends catch touchdown passes which is encouraging in that it gives defensive coordinators another gigantic headache when they watch the film. While they don’t have a great open field tight end these two guys can do damage in the red zone if they are ignored. Duke ignored them to their own peril which means someone is going to have to come out of the box. Which should make it easier to run the ball.
The offensive line had a particularly rough day. There was blame to go around. It started at Center where Chris Owens made his first start. It was not a great debut for him. Alabama tried true freshman Evan Neal at left guard. He wasn’t stellar. They tried replacing him with redshirt freshman Emil Ekiyor who despite his 327 lb frame got trucked so badly he ended up getting hurt and will miss several weeks. At least Neal didn’t get embarrassed and will likely keep his spot. We might see right guard Landon Dickerson who has a real nasty streak slide down to center where he practiced quite a bit and bring in senior Matt Womack in at right guard. Womack had an outstanding year at right tackle two years ago but lost his spot due to injury and never got it back. Womack is big and has experience so it may be a good move to try. One way or another they will need to improve significantly to keep things going once SEC play gets going.
The running backs did not have a good day. Obviously some of this had to do with the offensive line but none of them were as aggressive in the hole as they should be. I think this has to do with none of them having much experience as starters. Damien Harris was an aggressive runner who took most of the early snaps for the last several years and by time Najee came in they were already a bit tired. It’s time for both he and Brian Robinson to learn what it means to be the first man up. Currently they are not doing it to the standard that has been put before them.
Defensively I didn’t see much to complain about since Duke had nothing in the way of weapons to attack us so this was just a warm up to see if they could line up right. It was nice to see Trevon Diggs back in there with his NFL caliber size and athleticism. Losing him was one of the big reasons we did not go the distance last year. He snagged a nice interception in the game. This is a guy who can take away the other teams best receiver and we need for him to be there all year.
On special teams the new kicker continued the virtual mathematical impossibility of hitting the poles on every field goal attempt. He did strike the ball much harder than past kickers and is sending the kickoffs well out of the end zone which is nice to see. The punting was poor and Alabama is still looking for answers there. Most believe the kicker Will Reichard is the answer and he just needs to straighten out his kick more since it’s at least flying straight.
Curiously the nations sports media continue to toss dirt onto the casket of Alabama football and Tua Tagovailoa’s Heisman odds. Jalen Hurts has already passed Tua if you can believe that. He was the media darling two seasons ago but for what ever reason he has become pass’e even though he’s clearly a better quarterback now than he was when he came off the bench against Georgia in 2017. I can sit here and tell you a number of reasons that Alabama will not return to the playoffs, but I think the national media has underestimated this team. Yes there are some critical weaknesses that could end up biting them but there’s also some key strengths that can put them in the 4th quarter against anybody should they play well. At this point I’m sure Tua would be honored to be the Heisman winner as would any player, but after watching them shove him aside last season for someone who played in a joke league the infatuation is long gone. As a young man who speaks of his Christian Faith he should know that winning popularity contests is not the purpose of life.