Five takeaways from Alabama-Missouri

As Alabama romped over Missouri Saturday night, we learned a little more about this team that has the potential to be one of the best ever if it remains on the current course. Yes, by holding the Tigers to 212 yards of offense, the Alabama defense answered the bell. And yes, Jalen Hurts can throw the football downfield—a 44-yard strike to Jerry Jeudy was evidence.

But the big question heading into Tennessee week is the extent of Tua Tagovailoa’s knee injury. Tua assured us of his humanness this past Saturday, and that he’s not a robot or a video game character. Yes, he threw for 265 yards in only three quarters, but in addition to posting the most incomplete passes (10) of his short career, he did not return to the game after aggravating a sprained knee in the third quarter. Tagovailoa spent time in the medical tent before watching Hurts and Mac Jones close the book on the Tigers on a balmy night in Tuscaloosa. 

For a moment as Tua sat on the grass, Alabama nation feared the worst: an injury that would cause them to put up the tiki torches ‘cause this 2018 luau is coming to an end. After the game, Nick Saban said his starting quarterback is fine and we probably won’t know much more for a few days, so it’s sacrilegious to even speculate.

Without further ado, here are five takeaways from the Alabama-Missouri game on Saturday night.

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa | Courtesy Alabama Athletics – Photo by Robert Sutton
  1. The Alabama Defense turned in its best performance of the year 

A safety and and 2 INTs were impressive, but holding NFL prospect Drew Lock to 142 yards on 13-of-26 passing was the most significant stat from Saturday night. Historically Alabama has not fared well against pro-caliber quarterbacks during the Saban era. In 2013, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel threw for 464 yards in a 49-42 loss at Kyle Field. Later that season, Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight blistered the Tide for 348 yards in the Sugar Bowl. In 2015, Chad “Swag” Kelly of Ole Miss tossed it around the field for 341 yards and three touchdowns. Kelly one-upped that performance in 2016 with a 421-yard, three-touchdown effort. And twice, Clemson’s DeShaun Watson threw for over 400 yards on Alabama’s vaunted defense (405 in 2016, 420 in 2017). With several NFL scouts visiting the Alabama pressbox on Saturday, the Alabama D ensured that Lock’s stock did not go up. 

Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy | Courtesy Alabama Athletics – Photo by Robert Sutton
  1. 60 is the New Normal

In 2005, no one would have ever guessed, as at the time the Crimson Tide could barely muster a score, that one day in the not-too-distant future, Alabama would average more than 53 points per game and, by the seventh game of the season, a Tide quarterback would have 18 touchdowns with no interceptions. But here we are, and 60 has become the new normal for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Alabama raked in 564 yards of total offense and scored 39 on the pesky Tigers, but an air of disillusionment hovered over Bryant-Denny as the final seconds ticked away Saturday night. You could almost hear Alabama fans sighing collectively as they gazed at the final scoreboard and lamented that their beloved team didn’t hang 60 on another hapless opponent.

By any measuring stick, the Crimson Tide beat Missouri soundly. But it did not turn out the necessary style points to sate some of the Alabama faithful who have become uber-greedy over the last few weeks.  

It says something about the level of your program when scoring only 39 points on an SEC opponent is viewed as a disappointment. No normal team has such expectations.

Then again, Alabama is no normal team.

Alabama defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs | Courtesy Alabama Athletics – Photo by Robert Sutton
  1. Missouri may still be experiencing SEC culture shock

Although Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference in 2012 and has been to the league championship game twice (2013, 2014), the program still seems to be getting its SEC bearings. With no offense to Missouri’s former conference, the Big 12, which provides an impressive college football atmosphere, the SEC is larger, louder, and more passionate about its football. According to an article from the SEC website, Saturday Down South, the SEC averaged over 75,000 fans at its stadiums in 2017 while the Big 12 averaged only 56,852. One Missouri fan visiting Tuscaloosa for the first time on Saturday commented that he’d been all over the world watching sports but was blown away by the atmosphere at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“Compares to Wrigley Field in 2016 when the Cubs won the World Series,” he said.

Because he was decked out in all black, I refrained from mentioning that if he thinks this is something, he should see the scene when Auburn or LSU comes to town.

“Where do all these people come from?” he inquired pointedly.

“Everywhere,” I replied.

Alabama defensive back Saivion Smith (4) | Courtesy Alabama Athletics – Photo by Kent Gidley
  1. Alabama has potentially found a kicker (but not a punter)

After a shaky start, the turbulence in Air Bulovas seems to be leveling out. Against Missouri, Alabama placekicker Joseph Bulovas netted FGs of 30 yards, 28 yards, and 20 yards, and was 4-for-4 in extra point attempts. What is more, Bulovas’ only miss was a 52-yarder—a kick that had the distance but was pulled to the left.

Punter Skyler DeLong, who hasn’t seen the field (as Ben Jones of The Tuscaloosa News pointed out, DeLong still has his redshirt intact) this month, came in and promptly booted a 12-yarder that had less arch than a shell-riddled mallard plummeting to a pond. This year’s struggles are a stark contrast to punter JK Scott, who averaged 43 yards per punt last year for the Crimson Tide.

With the pace and success at which Alabama moves the ball, having a terrific punter won’t make a world of difference. But one has to wonder if that perspective will change if and when the Bama O isn’t clicking on all cylinders.

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts | Courtesy Alabama Athletics – Photo by Amelia B. Barton
  1. The Hurts/Tagovailoa saga has taken a heartwarming twist

It was only a 7-yard reception, but it meant everything. The crowd acknowledged as much, as they stood and cheered for Jalen Hurts, receiver, as he lifted himself off the turf. “Tagovailoa to Hurts” the stadium announcer bellowed.

At the beginning of fall camp, one had to wonder how the Hurts/Tagovailoa saga would play out, but Saban, no stranger to adversity, not only diffused the situation, he turned it into a rose garden. While Tua continues to shine, his play seems to make Hurts better as well. And after a reception, Hurts may be able to shed the label of “dual threat” quarterback and ascend to “triple threat.”

In a world where “Me” is king, Hurts and Tagovailoa, two outstanding football players as well as men, have selflessly embarked on the concept of “We.”

And Saban’s mastery of the situation is one of the many reasons why he’s the GOAT. H&A

Cover photo: Damien Harris walks off the field after a 39-10 win over Missouri. Harris had 62 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown. Photo by Al Blanton. 

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