Yet again, Alabama has completely demolished their opponent for the season opener. It’s become such a rote tradition that it’s easy for someone to forget that this should have been one of the premier matchups of the week.
With normal teams, a #1 vs #14 would draw eyeballs and hype across the nation, especially when both teams featured QBs in the top 10 of preseason Heisman odds.
But Alabama isn’t a normal team.
The amount of resignation I saw in the media, in the Miami fanbase, and even in the Alabama fanbase that a blowout was inevitable was frankly staggering. Miami, despite all their team speed and recruiting rankings, had about as much of a chance as someone like Vanderbilt of upsetting Alabama, and everyone knew it.
Alabama took the opening kickoff and proceeded to quickly move the ball upfield with a mix of runs and 10-yard passes before QB Bryce Young eluded pressure in the pocket, stepped up through the line, and delivered a strike downfield to a wide open John Metchie, who sprinted to the sidelines and dove into the endzone for the Tide’s first score.
The Alabama defense utterly stuffed Miami’s offense over and over, and the Tide put together a couple of 2009-like drives, eating the entire first quarter and nabbing a touchdown and a couple of field goals to get up by 20. Then uber-pass rushers Will Anderson and Chris Allen combined down on D’Eriq King and forced a fumble/interception, which senior Phidarian Mathis deftly nabbed out of the air. A quick pass to tight end Cam Latu, who stiff-armed two different defenders into a different dimension, gave the Tide a 27-0 lead, and the game was effectively over.
Miami did manage to score a field goal as the half expired after their receiver tripped on a deep ball, and Alabama’s defensive back, Daniel Wright, was called for pass interference despite clearly never even touching the receiver on replay.
The Hurricanes did manage to string together a good offensive drive right out of halftime with a flurry of quick slant passes, but were ultimately stuffed on 4th and goal and turned the ball over. Facing a 99-yard field, QB Bryce Young narrowly avoided an intentional grounding when his offensive line missed a blitz, and followed that up by launching a deep ball to Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams, who exploded past the defense and raced the length of the field for a 94-yard score.
The Tide defense followed that up with a quick interception when the Hurricanes got caught going to the cookie jar too many times and going for another quick slant, and running back Trey Sanders turned the good field position into a 20 yard score in his first action back since his car accident in 2020.
It was basically garbage time after that, with Miami picking up a touchdown on a perfectly thrown deep ball and Alabama running up the middle the rest of the quarter trying to kill clock.
Offensively, Bill O’Brien likely alleviated the fears of many, sticking to much of the same play design and philosophies as Tide fans have been used to over the past couple of years with Steve Sarkisian. There wasn’t quite the explosiveness we’ve seen, but the passing game also had more of a 10-yard chain-converter focus than the last few teams displayed.
Bryce Young had a phenomenal debut. His pocket awareness is better than most pro QBs, and he’s soooo quick when avoiding defenders. In terms of decision making and feel for the game, Young seemed to be playing at a different speed than everyone else, which is crazy for a first year starter. He did miss a deep shot to Williams on the first drive, and he overshot a couple of other downfield passes. He’s got a crazy-fast release and a lot of zip, but he doesn’t quite have the touch and accuracy yet of his predecessors in Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones.
As far as his receiving targets, Metchie displayed great hands on a couple of sideline passes and led the way with six catches, while Jameson Williams is clearly the preferred deep ball guy. Slade Bolden also got a couple of catches across the middle from the slot. All three played well as receivers and should make up a solid trio for Young. On the other hand, none of them showed the kind of tackle-breaking and yards-after-catch ability that Alabama has thrived on since 2018.
Javon Baker and Jojo Earle were both given a few shots on screen passes and turned them into positive gains, but nothing explosive happened there yet.
At tight end, Cam Latu got the bulk of the playing time. He had a couple of nasty pancake blocks and also whiffed a couple of times. He added three catches for 43 yards and 2 touchdowns, and I LOVED all three. The first touchdown was a seam route off of playaction where he absolutely toasted the poor linebacker, the second was a huge catch and run across the middle where he stiff armed two different defenders. The third saw him go airborne and pull a ball down as he was getting hit. It was a great showing for the guy, and he looks to be a major factor all year.
Jahleel Billingsley didn’t play the first half, but did manage to get in the game in the second, though he didn’t get any targets.
At running back, Brian Robinson Jr. averaged a respectable 5 yards per carry. He broke some tackles and pushed the pile a couple of times to get a first down. When he gets past the line of scrimmage, he’s got the speed and power to bowl through second level defenders. He didn’t really flash, but definitely had a solid outing early in the game.
Jase McClellan didn’t quite have the opener he wanted, though. While he managed to get positive yardage on most of his attempts, he didn’t really break any tackles and only averaged 4 yards per carry. He also got pushed into the QB as a pass protector once, and totally whiffed a blitz pickup a second time. His recruit-mate, Roydell Williams, got a couple of carries and also fumbled.
Trey Sanders had the best run of the night when he reversed field and bounced off-tackle, racing to the endzone for a 20-yard score. He still didn’t look quite as explosive as he did before his hip surgery last year, but hopefully that will come as he shakes off the rust.
Darrian Dalcourt apparently won the competition at center, and Chris Owens moved to right tackle, pushing Kendall Randolph back to his role as a hybrid tight end. Overall, the offensive line was exceptional at pass blocking, with LT Evan Neal being downright dominant. Owens did have a few whiffs, which is a bit disappointing for the 6th year senior. He performed well at center last year, but I’m not sure he has the athleticism to be a full-time tackle on the outside. Don’t be surprised if we see some rotating there.
On the other hand, Miami’s constant blitzing seemed to overwhelm them at times, and they struggled to run block in short yardage situations. While it is a bit of a concern, we also saw the same thing the last three years with the pass blocking being ahead of the run blocking for the first 3 games of the season or so.
Defensively, man, what can you even say about Pete Golding’s unit here? The Hurricanes have one of the most dynamic QBs from 2020 and added a star transfer receiver while not losing anyone on offense to graduation. And the Tide held their passing to 5.6 yards per attempt, rushing to 2.8 yards per carry, and forced three turnovers while only allowing a single play for more than 20 yards (a deep ball in single coverage at the end of the game with a debatable no-call for offensive pass interference).
The pass rush was utterly terrifying, with Will Anderson absolutely wrecking things all night. The Tide had 4 sacks, and likely would have had 4 more if King weren’t so slippery. The biggest negative was Chris Allen hurting his foot. He had to be carted off, and is feared to be done for the season. It’s tremendously sad for the 5th year senior who passed up the chance to go to the NFL, and it’s a huge blow for Alabama’s pass rush, as now the Tide will have to find someone else to bookend Anderson.
Henry To’o To’o was everything he was billed to be. Fast, instinctual, and a tackling machine. He single-handedly shut down multiple read option plays, and helped to diagnose and flatten a receiver when the Hurricanes were starting to find a little success on slants. He did hurt his arm, but was seen running around on the sidelines with a big protective sleeve, so hopefully it’s nothing serious.
At defensive back, Jalyn Armour-Davis and Josh Jobe both played nearly perfect games. I’m not sure if either gave up a single catch, and both made multiple open field tackles. Alabama is set at outside corner. Brian Branch played Star and was all over the field blowing up screen plays before cramps took him out in the 3rd quarter. Malachi Moore played safety in DeMarcco Hellams absence and did fine, though I think he’s a little better fit at Star.
Overall, the Tide defense lived up to what many of us have been projecting all off-season. They’re experienced, fast, and boast an utterly fearsome pass-rush. Meanwhile the offense seemed a bit ahead of schedule. Bryce Young didn’t show any signs of nerves and the passing game was lights out. Both the running backs and receivers are going to have to find someone that can break tackles with the game on the line, though.
On to week 2. Roll Tide!