3 things to know for Alabama football's 2020 debut at Missouri

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports
FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2018, file photo, Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (4) catches a pass next to Missouri defensive back Christian Holmes (21) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Jeudy has plenty of playmaking company among Alabama's receivers, more so than any of those high-profile predecessors, such as Julio Jones, Amari Cooper or Calvin Ridley.  (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

Alabama’s much-awaited 2020 season opener comes in a venue that it would not have played in until 2025 under normal circumstances: Columbia, Missouri.

The reworked 10-game SEC schedule has UA opening its season at Missouri. Here are three things to know going into the matchup between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers of the SEC East.

Missouri won’t have its full roster

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said last week that the Tigers would be without 12 players due to COVID-19 testing and quarantining, but amended that number to seven on Tuesday after discovering testing errors. Which players are absent, and thus the impact on Missouri’s personnel options, remains to be seen, but Drinkwitz expected to have 69 scholarship players available.

The SEC established guidelines on Sept. 18 for schools to have at least 53 scholarship players available to participate, with a minimum of one quarterback, seven offensive linemen (including one center) and four defensive linemen. The SEC’s release said schools can elect to play even if they don't meet those requirements.

UA has yet to release any information on its own COVID-19 testing, but a team that is already a 28-point underdog in the sports book is now entering the game at even more of a disadvantage.

Feature ball carriers 

Two of the SEC’s top five returning running backs by rushing yards will be on Faurot Field: Alabama’s Najee Harris and Missouri’s Larry Rountree III.

Harris ran for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, all while setting the school record for single-season receiving touchdowns by a running back (seven). Rountree racked up 829 rushing yards despite two other Tigers amassing more than 100 carries. Rountree was not the receiving threat that Harris was last season, but Missouri has one in junior running back Tyler Badie, who led the team with 32 receptions.

Both defenses have an All-SEC lineman and linebacker to help combat those running attacks: LaBryan Ray and Dylan Moses for Alabama, Kobie Whiteside and Nick Bolton for Missouri.

Freshmen first

Alabama could have as many as five freshmen play significant roles on its defense in the opener or soon after.

In a secondary that lost three starters from last season, freshmen Malachi Moore and Brian Branch are well-positioned for immediate playing time. Patrick Surtain II and Josh Jobe have control of the cornerback positions and Jordan Battle and Daniel Wright have the same at safety, leaving the star and money positions (used in nickel and dime packages) open for Moore and Branch.

Two more freshmen, Will Anderson Jr. and Drew Sanders, were listed first and second on UA’s depth chart at its Jack linebacker position. UA has experience at its other outside linebacker position in redshirt junior Christopher Allen and redshirt senior Ben Davis, leading Anderson and Sanders open to specialized playing time such as pass-rush situations. UA coach Nick Saban has been complimentary of both in that aspect.

Finally, freshman Tim Smith was listed as a second-team nose guard alongside Ishmael Sopsher. UA has several options on the interior of its defensive line, especially if Christian Barmore (knee) is healthy enough to play against Missouri. But if Smith was able to earn a rotational role in his first preseason with the Crimson Tide, he would likely be the fifth freshman to see the field in the first half.

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