The first six weeks of the Alabama season were like going to Disney World at the age of three of four.
“Look at that!”
“Let’s ride ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ again!”
“This is so great!” Look, there is Mickey!”
Then you turn eight or so. You still like the rides and the parades and the Animal Kingdom, but that sense of childlike wonder, that feeling you can only get from something you’ve never seen before, has faded, if not disappeared entirety. That comes later, when you become a too-cool teenager.
For now, things are great, just like they are for that 8-year-old. Bryant-Denny Stadium is still the happiest place on Earth for Alabama fans. The Crimson Tide almost never loses. Tua Tagovailoa is still setting off an offensive firework show. There is even your favorite song to sing along with, albeit with the lyrics safely Disney-fied.
Perhaps the mid-point of the season is the time for change, like the mid-point of youth. The weather, the atmosphere, the return of “Dixieland Delight,” the great student crowd — all were there. The game was also difficult to criticize.
The defense played more to form than it had the week before in Arkansas. There was a lost fumble, and a few misfires in the red zone and if Tagovailoa’s passing accuracy was somewhere in the “high mortal” range rather than the “super-evolved visitor from another galaxy” realm in which it had been, that’s understandable, especially for a player with a big brace on one knee.
The final score was 39-10. On one of those crazy Saturdays with upsets and close calls around the country, a four-touchdown win over a conference rival should not be dismissed lightly.
But this seems like the point where all the fan fascination with the buzzers and bells should start to fade. The vacation was great. Now it’s time to go to work, the business of winning another SEC and national title now in the forefront.
Tagovailoa’s health is a concern on that front, although Nick Saban said he was OK and the work of his backup, Jalen Hurts, once again showed the improvement he’s made in the past nine months. So are some of the other nicks and bruises. That’s not to say Tennessee will pull the upset against Alabama in Knoxville next week, regardless of which quarterback is under center. But the Volunteers looked like a team that had found its identity in its Saturday morning victory over Auburn. LSU looked even better than that.
Suggesting Alabama revert back to its 2012 style isn’t the answer. This is a different team, with different personnel. Was that team stuffed in as many short-yardage situations over the course of a year as this team has been in the past two weeks? Will Alabama ever rush three again after Drew Lock became eligible to vote in Tuscaloosa County because of his length of residence in the pocket on the Missouri touchdown? The lightning power Tagovailoa provides is still the best weapon Alabama (or anyone else) has. He’s still going to make spectacular plays. But those plays will, more and more, be as much about winning games as about generating sheer, spectacular highlight value.
So many little things are, not worrisome, but vexing. The punting hasn’t been a problem since Alabama hasn’t had to punt, but Skyler DeLong’s one attempt Saturday looked like he had fouled out to the catcher. Henry Ruggs and DeVonta Smith were banged up, luckily not worse than the postgame reports suggested. Raekwon Davis was fortunate not to get a carry-over ejection.
None of this means the rest of the season can’t be fun. It can. It doesn’t mean Alabama isn’t the No. 1 team in the nation. It is.
But it does mean that the whistle has sounded, and the real work is about to begin.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.