As the minutes pass, I hear the voice of WWE Superstar/Icon/Leader of D-Generation X, Triple H, ring loudly in my mind, “Are you ready….I SAID….ARE YOU READY???!!!” The answer for all across the college football landscape and myself is a resounding “YES”. For Alabama fans, that moment cannot come sooner. On Saturday afternoon, August 31st, in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, the Crimson Tide will take on a rebuilding Duke Blue Devils in their first game of the 2019 campaign. It’s not exactly a marquee game, but it’s opening weekend. Not many games are top of line in Week 1. However, we’re just happy that it’s back. So, what should we be looking for in this contest?
Duke QB Situation: When it comes to supplying 1st round talent to the NFL Draft, Duke isn’t usually one of the names that comes to mind. However, QB Daniel Jones was drafted 6th overall by the New York Giants. Now, offensive guru David Cutcliffe will be grooming redshirt senior Quentin Harris to take his place. Harris played for 9 quarters last season in relief of Jones due to injury. While he may not be considered a pocket passer like Jones, he’s able to add an extra dimension to the offense with his feet. He was frequently used on goal line and short yardage sets even when Jones was under center. So, he’s not entirely green. Plus, he has one of the best in business development-wise in Cutcliffe coaching him. “He’s offensively on of the best minds in this era of our game. Quarterback development, he’s very, very talented in terms of how he’s been able to develop a lot of good players at that position,” said Nick Saban on David Cutcliffe. David will have him prepared better than most would going against an opponent such as Alabama. However, cutting your teeth as a first-time starter against the Crimson Tide is not the most ideal situation.
The Rest of the Duke Offense: Unfortunately for Harris and the Duke offense, they are inexperienced at the WR position. To make matters worse, Jake Bobo fractured his right clavicle during practice recently and is out indefinitely. They do, however, have and experienced backfield to take some of the pressure off Quentin Harris at least until they can develop their receiving corps. Senior Deon Jackson leads the way with 847 yards rushing at 5.3 yards per carry with 7 TDs from this past season. Brittain Brown will be assisting the rushing efforts and accumulated 369 yards rushing at 4.6 yards per carry and 3 TDs in 2018. While the Blue Devils may not have it together offensively quite yet, that doesn’t change Saban’s intensity of preparing for a Cutcliffe-led offense. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for David, what he was able to do when he was at Ole Miss and we played all the time and what he’s done at Duke with that program and the success they’ve had there. Offensively, they do a lot of different things getting empty, do a lot of things to feature the players that they have. And I’m sure they’ll do the same thing with the players they have this year,” Nick Saban said.
Duke’s Strength on Defense: The Blue Devils boast one of the better secondaries in the ACC. They are led by 2 studs in the defensive back field, CB Mark Gilbert and S Dylan Singleton (73 tackles, 2 forced fumbles). They tend to make life a living nightmare for opposing offenses. Senior Koby Quansah (38 tackles) and Junior Brandon Hill (42 tackles) provide a veteran presence at the LB position. In 2018, this unit gave up 408.8 yards per game and only recorded 24 sacks per game. Against the pass, they allowed 199.5 yards per contest. A total of 8 starters are returning from that squad.
Tua and His Band of Offensive Juggernauts: Alabama has arguably the best WR unit in the country. Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs III, and DeVonta Smith combined for 3,597 yards and 38 TDs. They averaged 17.65 yards per catch. If that’s not enough, should they need a little extra, freshman John Metchie can step in. If you’re not familiar, go watch the A-Day Game. He exploded onto the scene catching 5 passes for 133 yards and MVP of the game honors. The rich get richer at this position. Tua Tagovailoa returns to lead this offense after a record setting sophomore campaign that landed him in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Last season, Tagovailoa passed for 3,966 yards and 43 TDs. In a number of games, he didn’t play the entire game due to a large lead or injury. So, expectations are high for a healthy version of the all-star QB who has also had a chance to work on his weaknesses. Plus, he’s coming into this season with a large “Clemson-sized” chip on his shoulder. Defenses beware. Behind him is a talented duo of running backs led by highly touted Najee Harris and a hard-nosed, explosive Brian Robinson Jr., who’s waited in line for a long time. The question is, with the loss of 5-star freshman Trey Sanders, who will be the 3rd option to emerge? Regardless, newly hired-again offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will find a way to score a lot of points and it shouldn’t be too hard.
All Eyes on the Bama Defense: This year’s version of the Crimson Tide defense has no shortage of star power. Dylan Moses, Terrell Lewis, Anfernee Jennings, Raekwon Davis, Trevon Diggs, and Xavier McKinney all return to wreak havoc against those brave enough to cross their path. Terrell Lewis and Trevon Diggs are the two most anticipated returnees after missing all or some of the 2018 season. A lot of the focus is on the ILB position at the moment. Christian Harris, a 6-foot-2 244lb summer enrollee, stepped in place of injured redshirt senior Joshua McMillon in the second and final scrimmages of the preseason. He was a former 4-star recruit, the No. 4 rated LB and the No. 71 overall prospect per 247 Sports. He will have to fend off Jaylen Moody and Shane Lee who both had strong showings in the spring. After an impressive outing in the A-Day game, spring enrollees Antonio Alfano and DJ Dale are ready to further solidify an already imposing defense. The defense is an interesting combination of both young and old. They have the potential to be one of Nick Saban’s best defenses. As the season goes on, we will see if they live up to that billing.
Hard Hitting DB: As if the Alabama secondary wasn’t imposing enough, word on the street is that they can lay the wood as well. Nick Saban and head strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran pride themselves on producing physical defenses/players. Here lately, one stands out amongst his associates, CB Josh Jobe. “It’s just like he has an aggressive edge to him. He’s real locked in and real focused. I feel like it pays off real well. He goes out there, he hits everybody hard, he jams real well. He’s very aggressive,” Trevon Diggs said of Jobe. If you need proof, I refer you back to spring practices and the A-Day game. Jobe relentlessly punished all players that crossed his path. At times, it looked as if he were trying for the WWE with tackles that resembled powerslams. Needless to say, these young Duke wideouts have a lot on their plates.
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic should provide a test for Alabama at least in the early going. However, the Crimson Tide should prove to be too much for its ACC counterpart; especially one that is introducing a several new faces including QB. Alabama will have some new faces in new places as well, but those wearing Crimson and White are more talented. So, Tide fans should come away pleased as the post-Clemson redemption campaign continues.
I am a 2003 graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in Exercise Science. While at the Capstone, I served as a student assistant with the head strength and conditioning coach of the Crimson Tide football team. I have competed in both powerlifting and bodybuilding for several years. In addition, I have served athletes and people through the arena of personal training. Jesus is my Lord and Savior. I am a passionate fan of Alabama, but do not make other fan bases miserable because of it. College football has my heart first, but I cover all areas of sports. Follow me on Twitter: @justinriley7!