Thirty minutes of nightmare gave way to 30 minutes of reality on Saturday afternoon.
The Citadel, an FCS opponent, played No. 1 Alabama to an even score, if not quite on even terms, in a first half that fulfilled every dire Nick Saban prophecy ever uttered. But after halftime chatter across America about whether an actual upset was brewing, inevitability woke up, had a cup of coffee and saw the Crimson Tide score 40 second-half points to take a 50-17 victory and extend its record to 11-0.
“When you’re not mentally ready to play, it shows,” Saban said afterwards. “I take a lot of responsibility for not having our team psychologically ready.
“But I thought we responded in the second half. We made some adjustments and started finishing our possessions offensively.”
The Citadel came out with a meticulous approach on offense, keeping the ball for nearly half the first quarter on its first possession before stalling just short of field goal range.
Alabama responded with a quick drive capped by a 21-yard touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa to Jaylen Waddle. But The Citadel maintained its methodical approach and then hit on a big play as Dante Smith raced 45 yards down the right sideline for a tying touchdown.
The two teams then traded field goals for an unexpected 10-10 tie at the half. Then Alabama fumbled the opening kickoff off the second half back to The Citadel at the UA 31-yard line. But the defense held, a go-ahead field goal was missed and, after 32 minutes of craziness, water once again flowed downhill.
Alabama accumulated 40 points in 26 minutes to put the game far out of reach. Waddle caught his second touchdown pass from Tagovailoa, a 5-yarder that put UA ahead. Anfernee Jennings scooped a fumble and scored on the next Citadel possession. Tagovailoa then threw a 68-yard scoring pass to tight end Irv Smith Jr. and the rout was on.
Dante Smith did add a second touchdown run for The Citadel, capping a strong 130-yard rushing effort.
Tagovailoa, who played until late in the third quarter, had an exemplary statistical day, completing 18 of 22 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns. He also scored a short rushing touchdown. His season total of 31 touchdown passes set a new school single-season record, breaking AJ McCarron’s mark from 2012.
Jalen Hurts threw a short touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith and Brian Robinson capped the scoring with a 2-yard run.
Alabama will be back in action on Saturday, hosting Auburn.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.