It would be somewhat of a curious comment to say that a team that rolled up 501 yards against a decent FBS defense didn’t possess a complete offensive package, but in Alabama’s case, it would be an accurate statement.
And that should make you wonder just how dominant this team will be when it gets all of its offensive parts turning in the same direction.
Alabama faced off against a Hurricane on Saturday, yet found it mostly to be just an area of low pressure.
Alabama passed for 354 yards and ran for 147 yards in the win. Still, it felt like the Crimson Tide left a lot more on the table. True freshman QB Bryce Young set all kind of freshman school records in his debut, although even that number comes with a caveat, since the combination of a change in redshirting rules and a free “Covid year” covered up the fact he was a regular contributor in 2020 blowouts as Mac Jones’ backup.
Still, Young had a lot to prove on Saturday, and he mostly proved he was everything people had hoped: mobile, quick to adjust in the pocket, accurate, strong-armed and cool under fire. While Miami’s D’Eriq King had gotten most of the press in the run-up to this contest, King was outplayed by Young in every facet of the game – and King is expected to be selected in the top half of next spring’s NFL Draft.
Young’s performance just meant that scouts now have to wait out a two-year clock before getting him onto their NFL team, and they can join fans in the meantime in salivating over Young’s skills. Young is not as accurate as Mac Jones was – you won’t find many that are – but he brings a different skill set to the table. On his touchdown pass to John Metchie, for instance, Young stepped up quickly in the pocket, avoided the rush and got the ball out accurately even though his feet weren’t cleanly set. There aren’t many SEC quarterbacks who can do the same.
Miami was looking for revenge in this game for the 34-13 beatdown the Canes unexpectedly suffered on Jan. 1, 1993, back when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was Dwayne “The Defensive End” Johnson and guys like George Teague hadn’t even begun a long NFL career yet. Instead, Miami went home the owner or a larger beatdown, 44-13. Maybe Alabama can work on 54-13 next.
This Hurricane program shared few similarities with its 1993 counterpart, though. This Miami team wasn’t nearly as deep, or nearly as dynamic. It is a Hurricane program still in a rebuilding cycle of sorts, a cycle that has now stretched into its second decade. Things aren’t what they used to be in Coral Gables – the Hurricanes don’t hold a monopoly on either athleticism or a confident, winning attitude.
But even if this isn’t your father’s Miami Hurricanes, they aren’t your great-grandfather’s, either. Those early Miami teams served as everyone else’s homecoming opponent. This Miami team will probably beat someone it shouldn’t, maybe a couple of someones. Were the Hurricanes placed in the SEC, an 8-4 record wouldn’t be an unreasonable expectation, maybe even 9-3 if the schedule broke in their favor.
For those wanting this to be a meeting of juggernauts, however, they were only half right. Miami isn’t ready for juggernaut status … but Alabama certainly is.
Now, Alabama has to clean up the rough edges. The offensive line, 501 yards or not, is not in the same atmosphere that the 2020 line was. The wide receiver corps is like a pen of stallions – young, athletic, full of promise … and also a bit wild and unruly.
And, unfortunately, Alabama must again replace a key contributor on its defense, as OLB Christopher Allen appears to have been lost for the season with a foot injury.
But on a night where LSU was upset by UCLA and Texas A&M struggled to put away Kent State and Georgia beat Clemson while putting up only 10 points, Alabama looked positively vintage in its win over Miami. It was a solid effort indeed to kick off the 2021 season.
Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Alabama-Miami:
1. Offensive line often struggled against a DL that is average by SEC standards. Alabama will see somewhere between three and six defensive front sevens that exceed the skill level of the one Miami brought to this game. Alabama suffered numerous breakdowns, some specific to communication between linemen and others due to straight-up getting beaten by the man across the line. There wasn’t one area in particular where the problems were coming from, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your point of view. Fixing the issue isn’t going to be as simple as changing one starter out for another, because even star LT Evan Neal had a couple of plays he’d like back.
Bryce Young had to move more in the pocket than we would have liked to see, but at least he’s built for it. It will be interesting going forward to see whether Alabama leaves Chris Owens at right tackle. Kendall Randolph was back to wearing #85 and playing tight end as a blocker, something that happened frequently in 2020 but hadn’t happened much in fall camp. Darrian Dalcourt was a bright spot at center, as his snaps were accurate, something Owens had struggled with at times this fall. Time playing together will help this unit as much as anything else will, but it’s going to be a nervous trip to College Station nonetheless unless we see more from the OL in the weeks before.
2. OLB Christopher Allen’s loss took a big bite out of Alabama’s ability to affect Miami’s King. Will Anderson Jr. has sucked up all the media fawning this fall regarding his ability to rush the passer, but Christopher Allen had quietly become a force from about the midway point of the 2020 on until today. Allen led the SEC in tackles for loss in 2020 and having him and Anderson coming from either side of the line was just unfair.
In what appears to have been a freak accident on a sack, a Miami lineman appeared to fall on Allen’s foot and injure it. We’ll find out the extent of the injury in the coming week, but early word is not optimistic. If Allen is out, redshirt freshman Chris Braswell will probably split the spot with sophomore Drew Sanders. Guys like Keanu Koht, King Mwikuta and Dallas Turner are going to have to step up to help. Miami had no chance against Allen and Anderson together, and things got more manageable for the Hurricanes with Allen sidelined. But Alabama was still able to disrupt the Hurricane offense, because …
3. … ILB play was off-the-charts good, and the DL appears to have made improvement. The addition of MLB Henry To’o To’o has changed Alabama’s defense. No disrespect intended to Dylan Moses, but To’o To’o in the middle turns Alabama’s linebacker pass coverage from a liability into a strength of the defense. Furthermore, To’o To’o’s backup, Jaylen Moody, was forced into the game when To’o To’o suffered a minor elbow injury late in the game, and there was no drop-off. Moody intercepted a pass and also diagnosed an option play off left tackle and stuffed it. Provided this group stays healthy, opposing offenses are going to have serious issues going across the face of the Crimson Tide defense.
Safety play from Brian Branch and Malachi Moore further took away what Miami wanted to do. Up front, Alabama may have found its replacement for Christian Barmore in the form of veteran Phidarian Mathis, while Justin Eboigbe played arguably his best game at Alabama. This defense is going to be fun to watch.
4. Young’s first game at QB was a solid grade-A. Aside from a near-safety on a throwaway that Young just barely got across the line of scrimmage, it’s hard to find fault with anything he did Saturday. If we’re picking nits, Young needs to speed up the internal clock on plays from that specific down and distance, and there were other times he seemed too determined to throw from the pocket rather than scrambling for a gain. But over the course of the day, he established himself as an elite talent, and any opponent thinking Alabama would struggle after the loss of Mac Jones to the NFL finds itself faced with the sobering reality that Alabama simply reloaded.
Young and backup Paul Tyson threw to 10 different receivers, and that didn’t include TE Jahleel Billingsley, who sat out the first half for what appeared to be a disciplinary decision. John Metchie caught 6 balls and established that he could be a reliable leader of this unit, while Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams showed elite speed on a 94-yard touchdown reception. There were a couple of drops but nothing that can’t be cleaned up.
5. Special teams didn’t show last year’s explosiveness, and Alabama didn’t punt the ball well. For a team that will have to be carried a bit by its defense against opponents like Texas A&M, the field position game is even more crucial this year than usual. New punter James Burnip hit punts of 36 and 26 yards despite punting in the kicker-friendly Mercedes Benz Stadium. Will Reichard, on the other hand, came ready to impress. He hit three field goals, including one from 51 yards, and put all seven of his kickoffs either into or out of the end zone for touchbacks. In the return game, Slade Bolden was sure-handed on punt returns but didn’t find any creases to elongate his returns.
Alabama continues to use Jahleel Billingsley as its primary kickoff returner, which has yet to pay dividends. This will be a situation worth watching over the next few weeks, as Alabama seems to be prioritizing the limitation of mistakes rather than the ability to make big plays. However, backup PK Jack Martin had a kickoff go out of bounds, and Burnip mishit a directional punt that went only 26 yards and pulled his average down.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN