ATLANTA -- No. 2 Alabama pulled away from Duke in the second half and topped the Blue Devils 42-3 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Saturday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went 26-of-31 passing for 336 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions before being pulled late in the third quarter with a 35-3 lead.
Reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy caught 10 passes for 137 yards and one score for the Tide, who averaged 6.5 yards per play.
Duke hung with Alabama for a while, though. The two teams were scoreless through one frame and Duke kicker A.J. Reed hit a 30-yard field goal shortly before halftime to make it 14-3.
What did we learn? Let's break down some of the key points.
1. The Alabama passing attack is a machine: Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is back calling plays for the Crimson Tide, and it's clear that his primary job in the passing attack is to get his playmakers the ball in space. After a sluggish start, Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III all got plenty of action throughout the course of the game. Sarkisian used rub routes, crossing patterns and a few bubble screens to loosen up a Blue Devils' defense that came out of the tunnel playing inspired football.
Alabama wide receivers playing well isn't exactly breaking news. But what is important is that Sarkisian -- whose only game as the Crimson Tide offensive coordinator prior to Saturday was in the 2017 national title game loss to Clemson -- didn't try to outthink the room. Why should he? Alabama set program records with 522 yards per game and 7.76 yards per play a year ago, and the core of that passing game has returned intact.
Sarkisian passed his first test in his return to Tuscaloosa, but he still has a long way to go to make amends for what happened during his first go-round.
2. Alabama's rushing attack needs a lot of work: Running backs Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. were suspended for the first quarter, but it's not like they dazzled when they finally got on the field. Harris occupied the top spot on the Crimson Tide depth chart, but had just 52 yards on 12 carries with a long of only 15 yards. Robinson did find the end zone once, but had nine yards on nine carries. Alabama managed just 145 yards on 42 team carries -- 3.5 yards per attempt. That includes a 37-yard touchdown by Ford after the game was salted away.
Does it matter? With the schedule that Alabama has, probably not until mid-October on the road against Texas A&M. That kind of rushing futility can't become a trend, and it can't be explained away by referencing the quarter-long suspensions of Harris and Robinson.
Alabama is a pass-first team. With those weapons outside, it'd be irresponsible for Sarkisian to do otherwise. But the Crimson Tide have to be better on the ground if they want to get back on top of the college football world.
3. Linebacker depth wasn't an issue: All-American middle linebacker Dylan Moses suffered a torn ACL this week that will force him to miss the season. This comes just a few weeks after the Crimson Tide lost fellow middle linebacker and presumed starter Joshua McMillon to a season-ending knee injury. That left the Tide razor thin, and thrust true freshman Shane Lee in for Moses as the "quarterback" of the defense.
Lee responded with six tackles, including one early on in the first quarter on fourth-and-1 on his own 7-yard line that helped keep the game scoreless at the time. What's even more important is that there weren't many defensive breakdowns, communication errors or confusion on the defensive side of the ball.
The lack of depth will be a concern throughout the season simply because the Crimson Tide can't afford another injury to a linebacker. But as of now, it appears that Lee is able to handle a responsibility that nobody expected him to have this time last week.
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