The crimson jerseys came on and the redshirts came off. Four Alabama true freshmen made their season debuts in Saturday’s home opener against Fresno State, joining the eight freshmen who played in the first game of the season last week.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, outside linebacker Chris Allen and offensive linemen Jedrick Wills and Alex Leatherwood all played for the first time.
“It was an opportunity out there to play a lot of players,” coach Nick Saban said. “We played some of them early on, not worrying too much about the score but worrying more about how we can we develop our team, how can we play more players.”
Allen saw significant playing time throughout the game after injuries to the outside linebackers last week pressed him into action. Tagovailoa and Wills entered for a drive in the second quarter, then finished the game with Leatherwood.
Tagovailoa finished the game 6-for-9 passing for 64 yards and his first career touchdown, which went to fellow true freshman Henry Ruggs III. The Alabama coaching staff played him on one series in the second quarter with the first-team offense, as planned, then on the final three drives of the game.
“We knew Tua was going to come in the game,” starting quarterback Jalen Hurts said. “Very supportive of it. Obviously you never know when I could go down and get hurt. He needs that experience. I think he did a good job.”
Tagovailoa remains the backup quarterback, Saban said. He liked what he saw from his freshman in his first game action.
“All in all, I think the experience he got today will be invaluable,” Saban said. “Hopefully we can continue to do that some down the road.”
Allen had one quarterback hurry but no other stats in his first action. Saban said earlier this week that Allen was among a group of defensive players who had been planned as possible redshirts. But he was needed following injuries. The new lineup of outside linebackers has “a lot of work to do,” Saban said, on some of the technical points.
“I think some things that maybe the fan doesn’t notice is a guy doesn’t retrace on a screen, that’s part of stopping screens,” Saban said. “Guys don’t retrace on quarterback draw, that’s a part of being a good pass rusher is knowing when the guy is setting up for a screen, when is he setting up for a draw, when is he pass setting. These things are all things that we need to improve on so we can play these particular plays better. I think the experience the guys got today will certainly be beneficial to them.”
Freshman running back Najee Harris finished with 13 carries for 70 yards, leading Alabama’s running backs in both categories. He had a 15-yard carry and 25-yard rush on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter.
Freshman wide receiver Jerry Jeudy had one catch for 8 yards, and fellow freshman receiver DeVonta Smith also played. Linebacker Dylan Moses had two tackles. Thomas Fletcher continued to play as long snapper, while defensive backs Xavier McKinney and Daniel Wright saw action as well.
That makes 12 true freshman who have played this season, and 13 total members of the Crimson Tide’s 2017 signing class. Junior college transfer Isaiah Buggs has played a significant role on the defensive line in the first two games.
“Anybody that’s in there is there to help us,” senior center Bradley Bozeman said. “Coach isn’t going to put them in unless they’re ready to play.”
Freshman on participation report through 2 games (alphabetical)
Henry Ruggs III
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.