Alabama football came into the 2019 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game a huge favorite against Duke, but some were still unsure of how the Crimson Tide would look this year.
The Alabama football program came into 2019 trying to answer questions about their mental makeup after last year’s blowout loss to Clemson, and it’s safe to say many of those questions were answered against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
The early concerns from Alabama football fans were about the defense. With star linebacker Dylan Moses being lost for the season, and other injury and suspension woes befalling that side of the ball, it was a justifiable concern.
No one was concerned about Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy or the rest of Alabama’s offensive strengths. That lackluster showing against Clemson in the National Championship Game was just an anomaly, right? Even Steve Sarkisian couldn’t mess up an offense this good, right?
Wrong on both counts.
The first quarter of offense under the direction of Sarkisian was an unmitigated disaster. Alabama had 90 yards of total offense, with only 27 of those coming on the ground. Tua was running for his life more than running the football (and Atlanta Falcons fans are now nodding in agreement).
By the second quarter, Tagovailoa and his receivers started to click, and Duke’s offense wasn’t able to come up with anything sustained to give their defense a rest. When the first half was over, and the score was still only 14-3 Alabama, some were still had questions.
In the second half Alabama took over, Duke made mistakes, and the game got out of hand.
The truth of the matter is this. Duke isn’t a bad team, and yet Alabama kept them tucked in the corner like a scared puppy for the majority of the game. Once the Blue Devils defense ran out of gas, the Alabama offense started showing out, and not even blundering schemes from Sarkisian could stop it.
If you think Nick Saban and Alabama didn’t feel they had something to prove and needed a little redemption, think again. Granted, Duke is a far cry from Clemson, but they aren’t exactly a cupcake either. Alabama basically flexed for the entire nation (especially Georgia) and told everyone they weren’t going away.
Alabama — without some of their key defenders — held Duke to just 3 points and 204 total yards in a game that seemed a toss-up during the first 30 minutes.
There are still some questions facing the Crimson Tide, and as much as Nick Saban tried to deflect the issues that were seen with the offensive line and the kicking game, he didn’t make any excuses.
On freshman placekicker Will Reichard:
"“Will did great. He kicked a lot of touchbacks, which shows his leg strength. I think he hit both field goals that he hit, he really hit well. It’s a little unlucky that both of them hit the pole, but hopefully he’ll be able to gain confidence and improve on that in the future.”"
On the play of the offensive line:
"“We thought they may give us some negative plays, but we also thought we might fit some runs. I would say that we need to do better up front, probably on a consistent basis. I think pass protection was pretty good for the most part, and we were able to operate and get the ball in a lot of playmakers’ hands on the perimeter, and that was the difference in the game. You know, there’s obviously things that I’m sure when we watch the film we’re going to — every player is going to say we could do better, and I don’t think it’ll be any different up front.”"
Did Alabama redeem themselves from a championship loss? Obviously not. That’s not something you ever really redeem until you come back and win it again. But what they did accomplish is to let the college football world know that they haven’t lost a step and that their resolve to return to the College Football Playoff and beyond is as strong as it’s ever been.
There’s still work to be done – Bama needs to run the ball more consistently and feel comfortable kicking a field goal when it’s really needed – but this season is just beginning.
All quotes in this article were obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted.