ATLANTA – After Alabama crushed Clemson in its first Kickoff Classic in 2008, there was an immediate buzz about the Crimson Tide’s potential.
Nick Saban had to calm those expectations in the postgame press conference, saying, “It’s just one game.”
On Saturday against Miami, in Alabama’s last Kickoff Classic, Saban had to offer that same reminder after a 44-13 thrashing of the Hurricanes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Still, it was one heck of a first game for Alabama tight end Cameron Latu. The junior tight end, in his first career start, caught three passes for 43 yards with two touchdowns. Last year the tight ends accounted for just four touchdowns. On Saturday, Latu got half of that.
"The touchdowns felt great, but if felt even better knowing that I helped my team gain a victory and I know we're going to build off this week and get better for next week," Latu said.
It was a big day for the wide receivers, also known as the Rydeouts (a term coined by the receivers a few years ago). Version 3.0 didn’t disappoint. Veteran John Metchie performed as expected and looked the part as Alabama's next top target, making six grabs for 76 yards.
Newcomer Jameson Williams, an Ohio State transfer, started his Alabama career with a bang, catching four passes for a team-leading 126 yards, including a 94-yard bomb in the third quarter.
But the spotlight belonged to Latu.
The door opened wide for Latu after questions were raised about Jahleel Billingsley, the leading candidate for the starting role who missed the first two practices of fall camp, prompting a Saban rant about Billingsley’s “level of commitment.”
Latu took immediate advantage of the opportunity on Saturday. Yes, it was one game, but Latu proved he’s capable of being a viable weapon for an offense looking for future stars.
Latu’s first score was a 9-yard grab from Bryce Young for Alabama’s second TD and first of the second quarter. It was the first career catch for Latu, who was wide open.
Later in the second quarter, Young was flushed out of the pocket and found Latu, wide open again, streaking across the middle. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Latu fought off one tackle with a stiff-arm that would make Derrick Henry proud, broke another tackle and walked into the end zone for the 25-yard score.
"Down in the red area they had blitz zero, so I knew I had to get in my route quick on the first touchdown, knowing the ball was going to come around quick.
"And the second (touchdown) they just -- yeah, I just caught the ball and ran. That's all. That's all I've got to say."
Tight end wasn't Latu's primary position when he arrived at Alabama. He was an outside linebacker, but Alabama had a deep pool of linebackers. Alabama was thin at tight end, so Latu was asked to give that position a shot.
He obliged, and though it took some time, the move has paid dividends.
"Before last season, I said, 'You know, I think you have a lot better shot to be a tight end. You got good hands, you got great size, you're a good athlete,'" Saban said. "And he bought into it.
"And it's taken a little bit of time for him to develop and feel comfortable and confident at the position. But I was encouraged. I think the success that he had today will build confidence. And I think that's really important, especially when you have a lot of new players that don't have a lot of experience."