Alabama football has 14 straight wins in Atlanta. Can Miami find an area of weakness? | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Millions of people around the Southeast have to visit Atlanta periodically to take care of business. 

None has been treated more hospitably than the Alabama football team. Calling Atlanta a “home away from home” might be taking things a step too far but, since the memorable SEC Championship Game loss in December 2008, Alabama has won 14 games in a row there.

Even the 2008 season had its Atlanta moment in a season opener that changed the trajectory of the Crimson Tide and Clemson as well. Since the Florida loss, there have been memorable wins of every sort in whatever dome the city chooses to build. There have been season-opening routs (has Florida State ever recovered?) and SEC championship classics, including last season’s. There have been College Football semifinals wins and national championships, of which no one in Georgia appreciates being reminded.

Even the loss in 2008 was a benchmark, if only for the personalities involved, many of whom still resonate in headlines today: Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow and Julio Jones, Kirby Smart and Dan Mullen. Kanye West might be the surprise name of 2021, although he seems to have moved out of the Mercedes Dome a couple of weeks ago. 

Will the Alabama-Miami game find a similar place in history? Alabama probably hopes not, since the most historic thing that could happen would be a Hurricanes upset. Short of that, the biggest story will be the forging of a new Crimson Tide team, one that isn’t entirely without carryover from last season but one that looks new nevertheless.

A new quarterback tends to do that. So does a new offensive coordinator. So does a closely-watched young defense.

The main question there is not whether this will be Alabama’s “greatest” defense. Even if it is, you could never prove it statistically, the game having evolved so much even in the last five years. The question is whether that evolution has been so great that no team can rely on its defense to win games, only to carry water for the offenses that have to perform. 

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Ultimately, that makes it a quarterback’s world, and that’s where Miami, logically, will attack.

“The key with defending any young quarterback is how do you do against the run game?” Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz said earlier this week when asked about Alabama first-time starter Bryce Young. “It is easy for the quarterback to turn around and hand the ball off. We have to make it hard for them to run the football on us, and to that point you have to get a quarterback off his first look. Ultimately, it is about finding a way to make that quarterback go through his progressions and see if he can do it.”

There is, of course, a larger question. Diaz isn’t concerned with dynasty-breaking, only finding a way to be one point better than Alabama over 60 minutes. But from a broader perspective, has Alabama built such a strong foundation that it can’t be toppled in the long run?

There have been dynasties. Miami has had a couple, one in the 1980s that Alabama, ironically, more or less ended in 1992 and another, built on mind-boggling talent at the end of the 1990s until around 2001.

There have been others, familiar names that range from the previous Bryant-era Alabama to Florida, USC to Notre Dame to Florida State, none as powerful as Alabama’s current run but all dominant for a time. 

The end for all of them came internally. Coaches grew older or moved on. The details were lost, in large part due to complacency bred by success.

That’s why Saban endlessly harps on details. It’s why he doesn’t necessarily mind staff turnover that brings fresh ideas. Those are macro-level concerns, but for over a decade now, Atlanta has been the place to look for them.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt