ATLANTA — For a quarter, the nightmares seemed real.
Turnovers. Costly penalties. Suspensions. A season-opening three-and-out. No points. Not anarchy, but not good.
By the second quarter, the penalties and execution improved, the full roster was available and the Earth returned to its axis as the Alabama Crimson Tide methodically dismantled Duke 42-3 in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game.
“I don’t think one game re-establishes anything,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said, “You’ve got to do that over time.”
“We need to do better up front on a consistent basis.”
Even though there was some gear-grinding on offense in the first quarter, Alabama had some solid numbers for the game. Tua Tagovailoa finished with a solid outing: 26 of 31 for 336 yards with no interceptions and four touchdowns, including two to two different tight ends (Miller Forristall and Major Tennison) in what has to be some sort of unofficial school record. His chief target, junior Jerry Jeudy had 10 catches, a new career single-game high, for 137 yards and one score. The other Crimson Tide touchdowns came on a Tagovailoa pass to Devonta Smith in the third quarter and scoring runs by Brian Robinson Jr. and Jerome Ford.
The first quarter truly was ugly. Two holding penalties wiped away a pair of long gains on offense and the redshirt freshman Ford, starting in place of suspended Najee Harris, lost a fumble. Following that turnover, it took a defensive stop inside the Alabama 10-yard line for the Crimson Tide to keep Duke — which eschewed a field goal try — from taking an early lead.
“I looked at the opponent and felt like we weren’t going to win the game kicking field goals,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe there. “We should have gone for it there, we did, and we should have made it.”
Alabama’s execution improved in the second quarter, which was, perhaps not coincidentally, the quarter that saw Najee Harris, Robinson, Smith and Terrell Lewis finish their early suspensions. Tagovailoa led two touchdown drives although Duke’s A.J. Reed hit a 30-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in the half. But three touchdowns in the third quarter, all on Tagovailoa passes, put the game out of reach.
“Alabama is not good, they are outstanding,” Cutcliffe said. “When we needed to stay in there at times, we did, but our defense just wore down.”