Alabama football looks like the unseasoned team Nick Saban warned about all week | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Nick Saban likes winning more than anything. He also likes being right. He got both Saturday afternoon. 

What he does not like, just as no one does, is an injury. Especially an injury to perhaps the best defensive player in the SEC in a 48-14 win over Mercer

There was no immediate diagnosis on Will Anderson, Alabama’s preseason All-America defensive end. Anderson’s leg injury may not turn out to be serious but it  highlighted the worst thing that can happen in any game, especially against a team whose offense includes cut blocks, legal or quasi-legal.

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Alabama linebacker Henry To'o To'o (10) makes a hit on Mercer'sParker Wroble (10) Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Bryant-Denny Stadium. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Before this turns into a controversy, I’m not a believer that you pull the first defense out of a game with more than 10 minutes to go in the third quarter, although there will be such grumbling in hindsight. (For the record, Bryce Young wasn’t pulled until less than three minutes remained in the third quarter and got some reps that he probably needed.) 

In the interim, before and after, things went more or less the way Saban had been warning about all week. There were highlight plays on both sides of the ball, many by younger players. Sophomore running back Jase McClellan had three touchdowns, one rushing, another receiving and a third after scooping up a blocked punt. Kool-Aid McKinstry grabbed his first career interception. JoJo Earle was a step away from breaking a couple of punt returns. But like that tasty sausage on your tailgate grill, there were plenty of ingredients that you don’t really want to discuss, even though Saban was warning about them all week. 

There were 70 yards of penalties in the first half, not counting a kickoff out of bounds. There were coverage busts on two second-half Mercer touchdown passes. Alabama’s offense was efficient enough but not exactly dynamic. Jameson Williams dropped a ball. Will Reichard missed a field goal, for Pete’s sake. That’s Pete Golding, by the way, who does deserve credit for the way the defense played in the first half. 

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Saban gave fair warning. He detected a dip in intensity as early as Sunday after the Miami win, said so on Monday and pounded the point relentlessly. Apparently, there were still some issues Saturday and just expecting to flip a switch at Florida in the SEC opener next week isn’t going to fix them. 

"There's a lot more for us to really do as a team and prove as a team,” Saban said earlier in that week. “I've been on everybody's tail end pretty good this week."

Perhaps this was the shakedown cruise Alabama needed. The talent is obviously there, even if it needs seasoning. But what seemed apparent was a Saban point that passed fairly unnoticed in the angry week of media opportunities. Leadership matters as much as talent, maybe more so. Last year was different. Those players had been tested in the crucible of championship game. There are a few veterans from last year, of course, but most haven’t yet faced what they will face starting next week. 

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