CECIL HURT: Alabama football 2020 debut at Mizzou impressive but incomplete
COLUMBIA, Missouri — When you bill yourself as the Show-Me State, someone is eventually going to take you up on it.
Alabama did just that Saturday night, showing Missouri plenty of power in a 38-19 win and, if he needed the lesson, showing new Tiger coach Eli Drinkwitz just what has to be done in recruiting and development if he is going to compete in the upper part of the SEC.
Now, Alabama has to show that it can progress form the starting point. Finishing strong was not the best part of the Crimson Tide game in Columbia.
From the start, it was clear that Alabama had too many weapons and that really needed to utilize only two, Najee Harris running and Jalyn Waddle catching deftly-thrown passes from Mac Jones. By the time Bryce Young, Trey Sanders and the others mopped up in the fourth quarter – and even the mopping looked good at times and freshman-bad at others, especially on a Tiger touchdown pass against a coverage bust – the damage had been done. There never seemed to be a moment when Alabama was having to overexert itself to do that damage.
The most impressive thing about the first three quarters was that it was so methodical, so diversified and yet under control. Nothing is perfect – there were false starts and missed tackles, but no turnovers until Young lost a fumble late in the game.
There was not even a missed PAT to bemoan for old times’ sake. That doesn’t sound like much against an overmatched opponent. But the nation, even those who watched for a few highlights and turned away, had to be clear on who looked most unaffected by the strange off-season. Oklahoma collapsed. LSU faltered. Georgia sputtered early before correcting course. Alabama, at this point, seems to be aiming for the postseason before it meets its peers: Clemson, and whatever it is we imagine Ohio State to be, and maybe Florida. Even those teams, Alabama included, looked like they could have used a warmup game or two before diving into league play.
Nick Saban will have none of it, of course. The fourth quarter of the game will get more attention in this week’s meetings than the first three. Losses by LSU and Oklahoma only serve as fuel for his narrative that any lapse of attention from the process can have dire results. Texas A&M will, by the end of the week, be a menacing monster more-so than a team that led Vanderbilt 14-12 going into the fourth quarter.
The win over Missouri was not just a plug-and-play version of last season, but with Jones facing the thankless task of replacing Tua Tagovailoa. There were a few new wrinkles. Defensively, Will Anderson looked like everything he’d been hyped to be (and that was a lot of hype). Christian Harris looked improved and, perhaps best of all, Dylan Moses, back after more than a year, bore a strong resemblance to, well, Dylan Moses.
Ultimately, the show-me for Alabama wasn’t new. There had been little question that Alabama belonged among the College Football Playoff contenders, even if that group was shaken a bit on Saturday. Remember, the season is still young and might not grow up to be as weird as it appears in its infancy.
Because Alabama has to remember that if you dare someone to show you that they can come back, someday someone surely will.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt