Upon Further Review: Alabama 42, Duke 3
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Chances are you have already seen this, but it’s worth a mention anyway.
The best moment during Alabama’s 42-3 victory against Duke at Mercedes-Benz in Atlanta on Saturday night was junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s reaction to his brother Taulia, a true freshman, getting a touchdown on his first snap with the Crimson Tide.
Granted, all he did was run the play and hand the ball off to redshirt freshman running back Jerome Ford, who after having an early fumble came back and scored on a 37-yard run, but it sure beat Tua’s first game against Florida State two years ago.
He didn’t play.
Tagovailoa’s first snap came a week later against the other FSU, Fresno State. His first snap resulted in a 9-yard completion to Robert Foster in the second quarter. The five-play drive went 10 yards and Alabama punted.
Player(s) of the week: Tagovailoa and Jerry Jeudy set career marks for completions (26), and receptions (10), respectively. The quarterback passed for 336 yards, 137 to the junior wide receiver.
Play of the week: It’s not very often that it’s one that didn’t count due to a penalty, but when junior running back Najee Harris took a short pass 54 yards on his first play after serving a one-quarter suspension, Duke knew the game was over. It was only reconfirmed by the imposing sack by redshirt junior linebacker Terrell Lewis on his first third-down play.
Statistic of the game: Alabama had a 30-11 edge in first downs.
Normally we go with a first-and-10 format for this article, but with so many notable things from the game we’re going deep this edition:
1] Explosive plays: Even though Alabama’s longest play from scrimmage, sophomore wide receiver Jaylen Waddle’s 39-yard gain in the second quarter, the Crimson Tide still had 11 explosive plays. Nick Saban defines them as a run of 13 or more yards, or a pass of 17 or more yards. Alabama’s goal is nine per game. Last year’s season high was 12, which the Crimson Tide did four times (Arkansas State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Georgia). Of note, Alabama had two explosive plays nullified by penalties.
2] Stopping explosive plays: Duke managed three, two in the air and one on the ground even though the Blue Devils completely surprised Alabama by going to a triple-option look on the second series (which managed just 19 yards on seven plays). That tied last year’s season low by an opponent, which the Crimson Tide defense did three times (Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn).
3] Ejection foreshadow: There was a precursor to Duke defensive lineman Edgar Cerenord getting ejected for taking a couple of swings at Alabama guard Landon Dickerson, and also kicking him when he was down. The two briefly mixed it up on the play Ford fumbled.
4] Who played: Alabama used 54 players in the game. Five true freshmen started if you include kicker/punter Will Reichard. The other four were interior linebackers Shane Lee and Christian Harris, defensive tackle D.J. Dale and offensive guard Evan Neal. Overall, 11 players from the recruiting class of 2019 played in the game including Jordan Battle, John Metchie, Keilan Robinson, Byron Young, Darrian Dalcourt, Pierce Quick, Scooby Carter, Marcus Banks and DeMarcco Hellams. Dickerson, a graduate transfer from Florida State, also made his Crimson Tide debut.
5] Short-yardage running: On three straight second-quarter possessions Alabama had second-and-1 and run for no gain. The three subsequent plays it ran for, in order, 4, 1 and -2 yards. The Crimson Tide was more effective in the fourth quarter, with Duke’s line wearing down, but look for this to be a point of emphasis in practice this week.
6] A bad sign for opponents: Both Jeudy and Waddle were on the sideline when Alabama scored its second touchdown.
7] Yards after the catch: We charted the Crimson Tide with 264 yards after the catch, which was nearly more than Alabama had in any game last season. Alabama had 267 against Texas A&M. The 8.8 average was the most since the Missouri victory on Oct. 13.
8] A bonus to having Ale Kaho at fullback: The linebacker ran a receiving route on Alabama’s second touchdown. It’s something to keep an eye out for.
9] Consistency in the passing game: Tagovailoa completed 12 straight passes at one point, which tied his career best set against Texas A&M last year. Greg McElroy had the longest in Alabama history, 16 completions between Georgia State and Auburn in 2010.
10] Defensive touches: Alabama’s going to have an interesting chase for the team lead in tackles. Safety Xavier McKinney toped the team with eight, but in defensive touches (found by adding together tackles, assists, passes broken up, interceptions, hurries, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries), five players were within two of him.
11] Third-downs passing: Perhaps the most surprising statistic was Tagovailoa only attempted two third-down passes, the same number as redshirt sophomore reserve Mac Jones. Combined, they were 4-for-4 with three first downs.
12] Red-zone passing: Something widely overlooked with Alabama having two tight ends scoring touchdowns was Tagovailoa being 3-for-3 in the red zone. He completed just 62.5 percent of his passes inside the 20 last year.
13] Who was thrown at: Duke went after Alabama’s freshmen interior linebackers, Lee and Harris, but with limited results. Six passes were thrown their way for four completions and 34 yards. It also tried a shovel pass that was effectively nullified for a 2-yard loss. Duke threw three times at senior cornerback Trevon Diggs, with one catch for 37 yards, and one interception. Of the three thrown at sophomore Patrick Surtain II the Blue Devils only had one catch for a single yard.
14] Missing numbers: Game statisticians didn’t credit anyone on either team with a quarterback hurry. Even without the benefit of those numbers, as he was regularly disruptive, nose tackle D.J. Dale was still named the SEC Freshman of the Week.
15] Passer efficiency: After setting the NCAA single-season record last season, Tagovailoa is fourth after Week 1 (not including Monday night’s game) at 217.5. Western Michigan’s Jon Wassink is first at 269.60, followed by LSU’s Joe Burrow at 232.80 and Washington State’s Anthony Gordon — who posted a 230.80 against Alabama’s next opponent, New Mexico State.
16] The Fast and the Furious: Alabama had A LOT of speed on the special-team units. For example, the punt-return team had Waddle deep, but also wide receivers Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Tyrell Shavers and Slade Bolden, defensive backs Josh Jobe and Surtain, plus linebackers Lee and Jaylen Moody, Kaho and Ben Davis.
17] More special teams: Lee was also on kick returns, next to senior linebacker Anfernee Jennings and tight end Miller Forristall to make up the mid-level. Junior Brian Robinson Jr. was back deep as the primary blocker when his one-quarter suspension ended.
18] Bookends: Guarding the edges on extra-point attempts were Jennings next to Raekwon Davis, and defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis on the other side.