TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though the final score ended up 51-14, Saturday night’s game in Orlando wasn’t the smoothest for the University of Alabama football team.
Some of that had to do with a young team making a lot of penalties, which Nick Saban commented on during his postgame press conference. It was also facing a formidable opponent in the season opener.
But there’s also the reality of the Crimson Tide having so many new faces, among both the players and coaches.
Alabama has new offensive and defensive coordinators along with six new assistant coaches. This was their first time working a game together and everyone except offensive line coach Brent Key has new responsibilities.
So the game behind the game was sort of the great unknown, including how well everyone would work together under the lights.
Saban said most of the time things went “Pretty well. You know, there was some—a couple things I thought we did that, in the heat of the moment, maybe weren't the kind of choices and decisions that we should have made. But I think it was good learning experience for us as a staff, working together.”
One of the hiccups occurred early with signaling in the offensive calls.
“It kind of started out rough,” said senior Ross Pierschbacher, who made his first start at center after 42 at guard. “We were kind of getting in some wrong signaling, the sideline was kind of messed up with some of the headphones. So we were getting some mixed signals.”
As for Louisville’s sack on the first possession, and another missed blocking assignment right after that, Pierschbacher said they were both due to a player executing the wrong things.
“Communication,” he said was the issue, although not due to crowd noise.
• Player of the game: In his first career start, sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa completed 12 of 16 attempts for 227 yards, threw two touchdowns and ran in another.
• Play of the game: Even Saban called Tagovailoa’s first touchdown, when he spun to avoid a potential sack, stepped up and threw an 11-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Jerry Jeudy “pretty amazing.”
• Stat of the game: Alabama averaged a touchdown every 6.8 plays when Tagovailoa was in the game. The only possession it didn’t reach the end zone was when a ball carrier fumbled in the red zone.
Five things we learned about Alabama against Louisville
1] Tagovailoa’s development was on display, especially the way he’s learned to go through his progressions. He didn’t always make the correct decision, but a lot of times he was quick to throw the ball even when he had more than one option.
2] It says a lot about the confidence coaches have in a true freshman when they line him up deep for punt returns during his first collegiate game. Jaylen Waddle led the Crimson Tide with 146 all-purpose yards and also had a return for a touchdown called back due to a penalty. Even though Alabama has some serious weapons on offense he’s going to be a key contributor.
3] Don’t be surprised if opponents start to stay away from throwing at cornerback Trevon Diggs and safety Deionte Thompson. Louisville attempted seven passes in their direction and didn’t complete any, with one picked off. Diggs is a little more vulnerable at star (nickel spot in Saban’s scheme) as he’s still learning the position, but with Thompson’s range over the top the tandem took away a good part of the Cardinals’ downfield passing attack.
4] Louisville tried to exploit Alabama having new defensive starters at every position over the middle, and had some success. Until the Crimson Tide shows it can effectively counter and stop it expect a lot of crossing and wheel routes, especially at the young interior linebackers.
5] Alabama’s offense is looking for more yards after the catch. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley called a lot more slants than his predecessors, and considering the Crimson Tide’s speed it’ll likely cause defenders to back off some. As soon as they do the counter will be more screens and short passes to take advantage of players in open space.
10 things you may not have noticed about Alabama against Louisville
1] Tagovailoa’s passer efficiency rating of 235.43 was the seventh best performance of the Saban era, and fourth best against a FBS opponent.
2] On passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield, Tagovailoa was 4-for-4 for 134 yards and one touchdown.
3] New special teams coach Jeff Banks has tweaked Alabama’s return and coverage units. One thing that really stood out was the speed he was able to use on the field. He rotated some players depending on the situation, but Waddle had a lot of company when heading downfield on punt returns.
4] Alabama had more 15-yard penalties, seven including one that was offsetting, than Louisville had explosive plays, five. Saban defines them as a run 13 yards or more and any pass 17 yards or more.
5] If you include special teams, Alabama had 11 players make their first career starts including Alex Leatherwood, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Tagovailoa on offense, Quinnen Williams, Saivion Smith, Xavier McKinney and Shyheim Carter on defense. Kickers Austin Jones and Joseph Bulovas and punter Skyler DeLong also made their debuts.
6] Alabama used 64 different players. Nine were credited with a rushing attempt, eight with a reception and 23 were in on at least one tackle.
7] Alabama played 11 freshmen from the signing Class of 2018: Eyabi Anoma, Slade Bolden, Skyler Delong, Jerome Ford, Josh Jobe, Ale Kaho, Cameron Latu, Jaylen Moody, Patrick Surtain II, Waddle and Xavier Williams. With junior college transfers Saivion Smith and defensive lineman Tevita Musika also playing that’s already more that half the class.
8] Third-down efficiency: Alabama converted all six attempts when Tagovailoa was in the game. The team total of 10 conversions (in 15 attempts) were more than any game last season.
9] There’s a good chance we won’t see an Alabama defensive lineman in the offensive backfield during short-yardage plays this season, especially with depth a real concern. Instead, when the Crimson Tide got close to the goal-line the coaches called on three tight ends and used Robinson as a fullback.
10] You probably did notice that the 47-yard screen pass that burned a corner blitz and sophomore linebacker Dylan Moses chasing down wide receiver Seth Dawkins to prevent a touchdown. The Cardinals eventually scored anyway, but that kind of effort is always worthy of some extra attention.