Columbia, Mo.—Alabama football made its 2020 season debut on the gridiron with a 38-19 victory over the Missouri Tigers on Saturday night.
In front of a crowd of 11,738 socially-distanced fans spread out across Memorial Stadium, the Crimson Tide put their offensive prowess on display.
"I think we did a lot of things well out there tonight," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I think we played really well in the first half. We did a good job on offense of controlling the tempo of the game in the first half. I also think we did a really good job defensively in the first half, did a good job on third down.
"I don't think we maintained our intensity and played nearly as well in the second half. You gotta give [Missouri] a lot of credit. They hung in there and they kept fighting and we just didn't play as well."
Primarily fueled by the offensive efforts conducted by junior quarterback Mac Jones, senior running back Najee Harris and junior wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, the Crimson Tide offense amassed over 400 yards, including three rushing touchdowns for Harris and two touchdown receptions for Waddle.
The Crimson Tide began the game with a three-and-out on offense, with the Tigers forcing Alabama to punt. Fortunately for Alabama, the Crimson Tide defense forced Missouri to do the same, resulting in back-to-back three-and-outs.
Alabama soon picked up its first score of the day on a 12-play, 66-yard drive ended with a 1-yard touchdown rush by senior running back Najee Harris.
On the next drive for Missouri, a failed conversion on fourth down gave the ball right back to Alabama. The Crimson Tide wasted no time, driving 66 yards in four plays for an 18-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Waddle.
“He makes plays,” Jones said about Waddle after the game. “We took a downfield shot I think on that play. He tracked the ball well. The defender actually made a pretty good play as well. Impressive that he came down with that catch.”
At the end of the first quarter, Alabama led Missouri 14-0.
The second quarter ended no better for Missouri. On the first play of the quarter, Waddle picked up what looked like to be another touchdown reception. However, upon further review the ball was placed on the 1-foot line after the footage revealed that when Waddle dove for the corner of the end zone and the ball touched the side of the pylon and never actually crossed the plane.
The overturn of the ruling did nothing but delay the inevitable, as Harris would pick up his second 1-yard touchdown of the game just one play later.
A 27-yard field goal by Missouri freshman kicker Harrison Mevis gave the Tigers three points, but Alabama wasn't finished quite yet in the first half.
On the Crimson Tide's 11th drive of the night, Waddle picked up his second touchdown reception of the game, this time a 23-yard dime thrown by Jones.
Missouri was unable to respond on its next drive, and the Crimson Tide led the Tigers 28-3 at the break.
"[Missouri] played really hard," Jones said after the game. "We kind of expected a lot of man-on-man and they came out and played both man and a little bit of zone as the game went on. We had to adjust to that. Those guys played really hard."
At halftime, Jones was 17-for-23 with 239 yards in the air and two touchdowns. Waddle was his favorite target, acquiring seven receptions for 121 yards and both of the touchdown passes.
On the ground, Harris dominated the run game with 13 attempts for 71 yards and a total of two touchdowns.
On the defensive side, Alabama recovered no turnovers. Junior defensive backs Josh Jobe and Daniel Wright both led the team with five tackles apiece.
In total for the first half, Alabama's offense picked up 315 yards while holding Missouri to just 113.
At the start of the second half, Missouri's woes on offense would continue. On just the Tigers' sixth play of the half, redshirt-junior quarterback Shawn Robinson — who the Crimson Tide held to just 57 passing yards in the first half — fumbled the ball in Tiger territory, recovered by Alabama junior defensive back Patrick Surtain II.
Once again, Alabama's offense made its way onto the field. Harris picked up his third rushing touchdown in just five plays in just over two minutes, giving the Crimson Tide a 35-3 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Missouri was able to get three more points from Mevis after a solid drive down the field. While the drive was able to put another trio of points on the board for the Tigers, the 18-play, 55 yard drive also ate up 8:36 off of the clock.
Just before the fourth quarter, Saban made a change at quarterback and running back, subbing out Jones and Harris for freshmen Bryce Young and Trey Sanders at their respective positions.
After 11 plays and 47 yards with the freshmen at the helm, Young fumbled the ball in the backfield, recovered by Missouri. Two plays later, the Tigers finally earned their first touchdown of the day with a 54-yard touchdown pass from Robinson to junior running back Tyler Badie.
After eight plays for the Alabama offense, the Missouri defense forced the Crimson Tide to punt. However, a muffed punt by the Tigers' returner Barrett Banister put Alabama in the red zone. Young was unable to get the Crimson Tide into the end zone, so Alabama settled for three points from sophomore kicker Will Reichard.
Down 38-13 with just literal seconds left, Missouri freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak was able to scramble for a seven-yard touchdown for the Tigers with no seconds left on the clock. However, with time expired, Missouri had no opportunity for an extra point.
With the clock at 00:00, Alabama left Memorial Coliseum with the 38-19 victory.
On offense, the Crimson Tide had a field day. At quarterback, Jones totaled 18-for-24 for 249 passing yards and two touchdowns, earning himself an impressive quarterback rating of 189.7.
“It’s no surprise to me the way he played in this game,” Saban said about Jones. “Mac was really good tonight. He managed the offense really well. He made lots of really good decisions. We just want to build on that and hopefully we can as an offensive unit.
“I thought Mac handled the game really well. I thought he made good choices and decisions. He was accurate with the ball. So I was very, very pleased with the way Mac played.”
Similar to halftime, Waddle remained Jones' favorite target for the game, reeling eight receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Senior DeVonta Smith also had eight receptions on the night, but was kept out of the end zone and picked up 89 yards on the night.
On the ground, Harris finished the night with 98 yards on 17 attempts and three touchdowns, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. The senior running back's longest rush of the day was 18 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball the results at the end of the night weren't so pleasant. Overall, the Crimson Tide gave up 322 total yards, including 253 in the air. Missouri's Robinson was able to find receivers in the flat and open at the corners almost all night long, exposing the Alabama secondary.
"I wasn't impressed with the way we played tonight," senior linebacker Dylan Moses said after the game. "We played very well our first half but the second half I just feel like we need to finish.
"It's our first game so we just need to improve."
Redshirt-junior defensive back Daniel Wright had quite a night, totaling 11 tackles, all of them being solo. Wright also picked up on tackle for a loss. Junior defensive back Surtain was the only Crimson Tide defender to pick up a turnover, recovering a fumble in the third quarter.
Alabama now starts its 10-game, SEC-only schedule at 1-0. Missouri is now 0-1 with the loss.
While relatively quiet due to the small crowd size, the social distancing displayed by the fans seemed to be fairly successful. So far, so good in regards to the SEC's decision to delay the decision and to not hold back on getting the season underway. However, time will only tell how effective the social distancing will be in the communities surrounding the stadiums.
Regardless, this season will be a unique one filled with never-before-seen moments and unique circumstances.
For Missouri, there is still a lot of work that first-year coach Eli Drinkwitz needs to do before his Tigers can compete with the higher-tier teams of the SEC. That being said, Drinkwitz was proud of the effort put forth by his players on Saturday night.
"Proud of the fight our team displayed at the end," Drinkwitz said. "Could have easily gone a lot of different ways when the offense fumbled that first possession to start the second half and we didn't. We all stuck together."
Up next, Alabama football returns home where it will welcome Texas A&M to Bryant-Denny Stadium next Saturday. The game is currently scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. CT kickoff (CBS).