COLUMBIA, Mo. — Last season, University of Alabama linebacker Christian Harris, who was then a freshman, was thrusted into a starting role on the Crimson Tide's defense due to a number of injuries at his position group.
Youth brought mistakes in 2019, but on Saturday night in the team's 38-19 victory over Missouri, Alabama fans could see the growth and maturity in Harris' game on display, recording six tackles, two tackles for loss, and one sack.
"He plays with a lot more confidence when Dylan's [Moses] is in there," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "He is a lot more confident player now and I think he is going to play fast. He has outstanding ability and the more he can channel it in the right direction, the more plays he is going to make.
"I thought he played well tonight."
Harris and, redshirt junior linebacker, Dylan Moses have a relationship that goes back to when both were growing up in the state of Louisiana, and their combination could go a long way for the Alabama defense during the rest of the season.
"I have known Christian for a long time," Moses said. "Our bond goes way back. So, for me and him to play off of each other, it is natural. I am happy when he makes plays and he is happy when I make plays."
Socially-Distanced Fans Make for Odd In-Game Experience
It was the first time since his Kent State days that Saban had been in a football game that involved less than 12,000 fans.
The announced crowd of 11,738 at Memorial Stadium brought a lot less juice to Saturday's action according to Saban, but it did not affect the energy that his players brought themselves.
"It did not feel normal, I don't think," Saban said. "I think it is a little different playing without fans, without enthusiasm. But I think our players played really hard and they competed. The spirit of the game was different in terms of having no fans, but I do not think the competitive spirit that the players played with was any different than it has ever been.
"This is the way of the world right now, at least for the next little bit. We need to be able to maintain our intensity and not rely on any external factors to maintain our intensity and that is going to be a real key all season long."
Will 'Terminator' Anderson Among Freshmen to Make Debuts
The Crimson Tide debuted many newcomers in the season-opening win, and namely, linebacker Will Anderson Jr. and defensive back Malachi Moore were two freshman who earned starting nods.
Anderson, who garnered much praise throughout fall camp, finished the night with only three tackles, but he created havoc for the Tigers' offensive line that might not have showed up in the box score.
"I was happy for him and I think he did a good job," quarterback Mac Jones said. "We call him the Terminator. Coach Sark kind of came up with that name in film because he is just always around the ball, just destroying people. He'll get better and play a lot here.
"Hopefully, his name can live up to the Terminator name."
On the other hand, Moore had three tackles and one tackle for loss.
With 1:09 in the third quarter, the touted Bryce Young relieved Jones of his duties. The signal caller threw eight passes, completing five of them for 54 yards. He also scrambled out of the pocket multiple times, showing off his wheels and the dual-threat ability that helped make him such a coveted recruit.
However, he did have a freshman mistake, coughing up the football that Missouri recovered and, ultimately, turned into seven points for the home team.
"We did put Bryce in the game and it was his first collegiate game," Saban said afterwards. "We thought he needed to get some experience. I think it will be helpful in terms of his learning curve. He's a backup quarterback and we have to get him ready as well.
"He was obviously a little anxious out there in terms of how he played, but it was be something he can learn from."
Walk-on freshman Sam Johnson was the lone punter on the travel squad, and he punted three times on the night for an average of 39 yards.
Saban 'Unsure' When Assistant Charles Kelly Will Return
Alabama was without one of its assistants for this contest, safeties coach Charles Kelly, as first reported by Yahoo Sports.
While there was no specific reason given for his absence, Saban is unsure of when Kelly will return to the team. The coach also said analyst Mike Stoops was able to step into and fill Kelly's role on this trip.
"We wish Charles and his family good luck in getting well," Saban said. "We hope that he gets back soon."
- Alabama is now 14-0 in season-openers under Saban.
- With Patrick Surtain's fumble recovery in the third quarter, the Crimson Tide has now forced a turnover in 68 of its 73 contests dating back to 2015.
- Defensive back Daniel Wright, who made his first ever start, led the team in total tackles with 11, which was a career high for the redshirt junior.
- Alabama has won 33 of its 37 road games going back to the 2011 campaign.
- The Crimson Tide defense's eight tackles for loss on Saturday is already more than the season-high in one game from a season ago, which was seven.