In a surprise performance, the Duke defense started with malicious intent, putting pressure on Heisman hopeful quarterback Tua Tagovailoa stalling Alabama’s first drive with a three and out. They followed that up with a forced fumble by Jerome Ford on their second drive and took possession on the 26-yard line. They moved down to the seven before Alabama showed up for the game slamming the door shut on fourth and one. Unfortunately, Duke took only one shot at the end zone. I question the play calling from a 35 point underdog. What happened to three strikes?
I wonder if not only players are intimidated by the aura of Alabama. The quick start stunned the Duke coaching staff something was out of sorts. Perhaps they were so focused on the game plan; this was the furthest thing from their minds, no doubt they should have gone into the end zone at least twice. But you know what they say about should-a, could-a, and would-a.
Duke returned eight of its defensive starters from a season ago including the entire defensive line. The big boys in the trenches took on the Alabama offensive line and dominated the first quarter. The Tides offense looked wounded or perhaps taken back that they weren’t playing Coach K and the basketball team. This was a football team from college basketball heaven hitting them squarely in the mouth early and often.
On Bama’s next possession they fouled on back to back plays getting penalized for delay of the game followed by holding. Will Reichard attempted a 49-yard field goal it went DOINK off the goal post.
When asked about the slow start, Legendary Head Coach Nick Saban responded.
“Well, I think their defense was playing really well. But I also think that we were probably not firing on all cylinders for whatever reasons. Maybe a little anxious for some of the new players. And you know what, a couple of players that weren’t playing early in the game, so we had some young players playing at some positions. But first-game jitters. I’m not making excuses for anybody. We need to be able to start fast and finish strong, and we’ll certainly look into it. But I’m sure that when we look at the film, it’s going to be because of a lack of execution, whether it’s fundamental footwork or however we blocked people or didn’t block people. And you know, as the game wore on, I thought we did a little better job of that.”
The historically fast start had three hundred pound obstacles arriving laser-focused. Tua Tagovailoa recognized their pursuit and started sidestepping the pressure running for positive yardage. Sometimes the pass sets up the run, other times the run will set up the pass. He stepped up into the pocket as determined defenders circled to avoid their threats of harm. Tagovailoa hit Miller Forristall for a 27-yard touchdown to cap off a 12 play 80-yard drive that took 5:49 off the clock marking the beginning to a slow but methodical domination.
The momentum carried over to the defense. They picked up the intensity sacked the QB on third down to take possession. A short pass by Tua to Jaylen Waddle, just like that 39 yards. Across the middle to Devonta Smith for 24 more yards. Brian Robinson punched it into the end zone from the 1-yard line. All of a sudden Bama looked like Bama the score was 14-0.
Duke didn’t go away without a fight QB Quentin Harris threw a beautiful arching back-shoulder 37-yard pass down the far sideline to Scott Bracey who caught it tight roping the sideline. A shot in the end zone resulted in pass interference by Josh Jobe. A good penalty, it prevented the touchdown. The drive stalled with a 30-yard field goal by AJ Reid. Duke was on the scoreboard 14-3.
Realizing it was slipping away frustration spilled over in the second half Dukes defensive tackle (92) Edgar Cerenord got disqualified for a flagrant personal foul. I respect his fight, but football is a game of discipline you have to keep it together for all four quarters.
Truth be known Alabama didn’t start the game with all of its weaponry four players were suspended for the first quarter due to missing a team function. Star running back Najee Harris, his running mate Brian Robinson, wide receiver Devonta Smith and linebacker Terrell Lewis most notable the two running backs. The Tide changed when they entered the game.
Take nothing away from Duke’s effort, usually at Alabama; the scenario is this season’s top draft pick is followed by a future top draft pick. Head Coach Nick Saban believes in getting the season off on the right foot Alabama hasn’t lost a season opener in thirteen years.
Tua Tagovailoa kicked off his Heisman campaign completing 26 passes out of 31 for an impressive 336 yards. 10 of those spirals landed in the hands of current Biletnikoff winner (top receiver in the country) Jerry Jeudy for 137 yards. Should they keep this up, both of them may be invited to New York for that famous week in December?
It was slow to start, but once the locomotive lubricated all of its pistons and started to fire on all cylinders, the Tide Rolled up 512 total yards to Duke’s 204. The Leather Head Trophy was presented to Alabama as they hammered Duke 42-3 in the Chic-fil-A Kickoff Game.
Next on the Alabama Crimson Tide Schedule is New Mexico State Saturday, September 7, 2019 in Tuscaloosa. Duke plays North Carolina A&T Aggies they better be careful.