There’s no way of knowing if things would always go the way they did on Saturday.
There’s no way of knowing if they will ever go that way again. There may not be another opportunity depending on what Nick Saban wants to do.
But against Arkansas State, Alabama’s two quarterbacks showed what could happen. Not “will” but “could.”
First, let’s acknowledge the Red Wolves didn’t come rolling into Tuscaloosa with an SEC defense. ASU competed hard on a miserably hot afternoon that turned Bryant-Denny Stadium into a half-filled, half-vacant venue due to simple self-preservation for fans in search of shade. From the outset, though, Arkansas State was in a similar predicament.
Like so many teams that have faced Alabama in recent years, Arkansas State faced the quandary of stopping something. For opposing defenses, that almost always means stopping the run. Crowding the box, walking up a safety — those strategies seem ingrained in opposing defenses’ DNA.
For Louisville and for Arkansas State, without much 2018 game action to study, there was not much else that you could do. But with Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, those old strategies simply carry too much risk. That’s why his three quick intermediate-to-long touchdowns looked so simple.
They didn’t require juggling circus catches. But any extra defenders devoted to stopping the run merely increased Tagovailoa’s lethal arsenal — downfield vision, arm strength, a sense of the moment (he is a staggering 10-for-10 with four touchdowns on his third down passes on the past two Saturdays) and a deep corps of reasons that is just too good to consistently stop with single coverage.
At some point, defenses will adjust. When they do, Alabama will run the ball more efficiently. That “efficiency” was the first area Saban mentioned when asked about phases in which Alabama could improve. There were too many times when the Alabama front was held to a stalemate. As the game wore on, Najee Harris’ individual ability made up for the lack of wide running lanes as he rolled up a career high in rushing yardage. By the way, not that Alabama doesn’t have enough “controversy” elsewhere, but Najee may be another sophomore who is simply too good not to use more often.
So what of Jalen Hurts?
He was greeted warmly by the vast majority of Alabama fans. There was a groan of disappointment when he lost a fumble in the red zone — he took a helicopter shot after leaping into the air but also could have held the ball more securely — but there were roars of approval on his two touchdown passes.
The honest truth is this: Alabama is in a regular-season stretch where it could win with either quarterback. That will probably be the case in Oxford next Saturday. The Rebel fans will be loud and their offense can be effective but it’s debatable if they have better defensive personnel than Louisville or Arkansas State. (Insert rat poison warning sticker here.)
But Hurts does give a different look, a little more running capability (although Tagovailoa ran well on Saturday.) He seemed a bit more confident after a tough summer. He’s not going to start ahead of Tagovailoa, nor should he. But he is an asset, not a liability.
There is a possibility that the Ole Miss game could turn into a scoring fest — it’s hard to imagine the Rebels winning any other way. So Saban might as well continue what he has done so far, and bring everyone to the party.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225