Alabama had its quarterback, who could make all the difference.
Not the guy wearing No. 10.
Redshirt junior Mac Jones had a top-notch season opener, completing 18-of-24 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns, which added up to a 189.7 passer rating —which was almost exactly what he posted last season (186.8).
Junior wide receiver Jaylen Waddle also had a great game, with eight catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Senior running back Najee Harris ran in three scores and came up a pair of yards short of 100 before coaches told him to call it an early night.
The offense is going to get a lot of attention following Alabama's 38-19 victory at Missouri on Saturday, and it should. But it was the other side of the ball that seemed to have Nick Saban the most excited and better demonstrated the Crimson Tide's potential this season.
Having Dylan Moses back, and looking and playing like Dylan Moses, was the best thing that happened to Alabama in Columbia.
"Dylan played well," Saban said. "I think he's very confident. I think that we're very excited to get him back. He helps everyone play better."
There's the key.
All those people who kept asking "What's wrong with the defense" last year when Alabama had to play the entire season with true freshmen at the interior linebacker spots hopefully saw the difference from the get-go Saturday.
The defense had people lined up in the right spots.
The players made adjustments. There wasn't near the hesitation as the unit played with in in 2019.
The difference was Moses, who had a commanding presence.
"It felt great, you know, being out there with my teammates," he said after being out all last season with a knee injury. "I missed this feeling.
The last game I played was the Clemson game my sophomore year. To come back out there for my senior year, it's a great feeling."
Consider the opening series of the game.
Missouri starting quarterback Shawn Robinson took the first snap and executed an option to the right. However, freshmen linebacker Will Anderson made the initial challenge, junior cornerback Patrick Surtain II came off his man and made the hit to break up the play, and then sophomore weakside linebacker Christian Harris, from the other side of the field, cleaned up and dropped Damon Hazelton for no gain.
Moses was essentially double-teamed on the play.
On second down, Moses got everyone lined up, the Tigers tried to throw in his direction and couldn't complete the pass. Even if it had, the gain probably would have been for only 3-5 yards.
Finally, on third down, Alabama bunched in six defenders and tried have Missouri guess who was coming for the quarterback. The Tigers didn't get it right, Moses dropped back, and Harris was on Robinson before he could really react. He dropped the quarterback for a 10-yard loss.
You didn't see Alabama go sideline-sideline to chase down too many ball carriers like that last year.
There were too many times the interior linebackers were caught flat-footed an unable to challenge the offense.
The Crimson Tide defense simply couldn't go on the attack like it did at times against Missouri, and that alone was extremely encouraging.
Moses finished with just four tackles.
But Harris looked like a different player, one playing with more confidence.
Redshirt junior safety Daniel Wright made a career-high 11 solo tackles.
Junior cornerback Josh Jobe was credited with seven.
Missouri had the ball six times in the first half, and only one possession lasted more than six plays. When it finally drove in the red zone, the Crimson Tide was already ahead 21-0, and looking to put the game away.
Nevertheless, the Tigers, who didn't have an explosive play during the drive, still didn't reach the end zone. Moses chased Robinson for a 3-yard loss on second-and-8, and Missouri had to settle for a 27-yard field goal.
Alabama counted with a 10-play, 75-yard drive and ended any lingering doubt about the outcome.
At halftime, Alabama had out-gained Missouri 315-118. The Tigers were averaging 2.7 yards per carry, and the passing game had given up just one explosive play, a 23-yard gain when going after the numerous new players in the secondary.
With maybe its best chance to grab some momentum, Missouri subsequently went for it on fourth-and-2 at the Alabama 33. The option pitch was snuffed out by an open-field tackle by Moses.
It was one of five tackles for a loss by Alabama during the first half, two shy of last year's best of seven (which it did numerous times).
It finished with eight.
That's not to say Alabama's defense was perfect, far from it. On the 54-yard wheel route for a touchdown a freshman linebacker inserted to gain experience didn't pick up his man and then didn't get any help from the secondary.
Considering the circumstances, knowing at any time anyone could be quarantined for as contact tracing protocols, the coaches know they have to get as many players up to speed as possible. The more players Alabama plugged in, the more yards the Crimson Tide gave up. The Tigers executed drives of 18 and 14 plays, for a combined 130 yards and 10 points.
"We made a lot of mistakes on defense," Saban said. "They do a lot of formations. There were a lot of adjustments to be made and we had some young players out there. I was really encouraged by how we played defense in the first half. Not the way we need to play in the second half.
"The biggest issue was third down. We played well on third down, got off the field on third down. When you play teams like this and they convert on third down they extend drives. They're going fast. They're fast-balling you. The most important thing is to get off the field on third down. We did that not very well in the second half."
Yet when it mattered most, Alabama's defense showed its promise, and potential, without playing promising defensive lineman Christian Barmore (knee), either.
It's can build on what went well, and use what didn't as motivation.
Moreover, though, Alabama now knows that with Moses in the mix the Crimson Tide is a serious contender for the national title.
"I feel like we have a really special defense," Moses said. "I wasn't impressed with how we played tonight. We played very well the first half, but the second half I feel like we need to finish."
Alabama defense national rankings
|Year||Total D (Yards)||Scoring D (Points)||Rushing (Yards)||Pass Eff. (Rating)|