Alabama football handled the Duke Blue Devils Saturday afternoon. The result was as expected but how it happened was different.
There are two longstanding football truisms that apply to the Alabama football win over Duke. One truism is it is impossible to know how good (or how bad) a team is until it plays a game. Two good examples on Saturday were Nebraska and Tennessee.
In the case of the Alabama Crimson Tide, the overall, team ‘good or bad’ is not in question after the Duke win. Narrow that assessment to position groups and the game offered some surprises.
All spring, summer and throughout fall camp, Alabama football fans relished a punishing offensive line for 2019. There were more than a few suggestions the Crimson Tide could and should pound away at opposing defenses all season. Through three quarters against Duke, the average, rushing yards-per-carry (ypc) was three yards. Don’t mistake the stat as being because of first-quarter suspensions of Najee Harris and Brian Robinson.
After the pair entered the game in the second quarter, that quarter’s ypc average was 1.4 yards. The main problem was the ‘presumed to be punishing’ offensive line did little punishing. after the Blue Devils wore down in the second half, the Alabama football rushing attack finished with a ypc average of 3.5 yards.
The lackluster rushing attack did not much matter because Tua Tagovailoa was sensational. Tua’s numbers were 26-31, for 336 yards and four touchdowns. Those stats equate to a sensational quarterback rating of 217.5. One reason Tua was so effective was distribution. Nine Alabama football players caught passes, led by Jerry Jeudy with 10 catches for 137 yards.
If the offensive line was a disappointment, the opposite can be said for the defense, especially the freshmen inside linebackers. With the interior of the Crimson Tide staffed by three true freshmen, mistakes were expected. The three freshmen exceeded expectations in their first game. Of the 62 tackles credited to the Tide for the game, 15 of them came from the freshmen trio. Christian Harris and Shane Lee had six tackles each. D.J. Dale added three.
While the Tide offense was sluggish early, the defense made big plays. Shane Lee had one particularly big fourth-down stop in the first half.
Which leads us to truism No. 2. First games are consistently filled with mistakes. Teams usually take a big leap between game one and two. Poor individual performance and execution in first games do not define a season.
The Tide’s offensive line will settle in on five guys by week three AND it will improve. Freshman placekicker, Will Reichard will start missing uprights and making field goals.
How good is Duke? It is too soon to know, but going in its defensive line was believed to be a team strength. Which might explain some of the ineffectiveness by the Tide’s O-line. A 42-3 win by the Crimson Tide is plenty impressive.