ORLANDO – All of the talk, all of the focus, coming into Alabama’s season opener was on the quarterbacks.
Jalen or Tua, Tua or Jalen?
That was largely the tale of the first half of the Crimson Tide’s 51-14 victory over Louisville at Camping World Stadium. Tua Tagovailoa passed for almost 200 yards and Jalen Hurts added a couple of nice throws in the first half. The passing game looked pretty spiffy.
Nick Saban, Alabama’s coach, was focused on something else.
“I think we made a lot of mistakes,” he said as he left the field at the end of the half. “I don’t think we’re running the ball very effectively.”
An Alabama team with a talented, highly-recruited and largely veteran offensive line only paved the way for 109 rushing yards in the first half, with 26 of those coming from Tagovailoa – including a 9-yard touchdown run.
Damien Harris broke loose for a 32-yard run, and finished the half with 51 yards on the ground on six total carries and ran only once in the second half. But when Alabama tried to run, it often stumbled. Or at least didn’t dominate.
There were a few points where Alabama came out seemingly determined to get the run game going, but couldn’t quite kick it into gear. UA’s ground game accounted for less than a third of its total offensive output in the first half, and added 53 more yards on the ground in the third quarter.
The Crimson Tide managed to breach the end zone on the ground on runs by Najee Harris (1 yard) and Josh Jacobs (18 yards) to go with Tagovailoa’s scoring run.
Damien Harris started at running back and was clearly first in the running back rotation before he left early in the second half. Jacobs and Najee Harris split carries behind Damien Harris and sophomore Brian Robinson, a Hillcrest High School product, who got the call in the fourth quarter as Alabama finally began to get traction in its ground game and wore down Louisville’s defense.
Damien Harris finished with 55 yards on seven carries. Jacobs added 45 yards on six carries. Robinson added 37 yards, also on six attempts, and Najee Harris contributed 30 yards on eight rushes.
For the game, Alabama ran for 222 yards on 42 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per carry. It was enough to impress Louisville coach Bobby Petrino.
“They were able to move the line of scrimmage,” he said. “The running back would run four yards and then they would have contact.”
The stats were skewed a bit by the fact Alabama lost two offensive possessions when Jacobs returned a kickoff for a touchdown and Shyheim Carter returned an interception for a score, giving Louisville back-to-back offensive possessions in both instances without the Crimson Tide taking a snap in between. But on the whole, UA’s ground attack in the opening game wasn’t quite the team strength that was projected.
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or 205-722-0224.