The only thing Alabama fans have in mind every season is seeing their team win a national championship in January.
The fact that the Crimson Tide not only failed, but in miserable fashion, to Clemson last season left a bitter taste in the mouths of head coach Nick Saban and the rest of his players. No doubt, Alabama will attempt to avenge last year's defeat with a rampage against the rest of the league en route to another National Championship berth. The first obstacle in its path is none other than David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils.
Duke will open its season against the Crimson Tide in the Chick-Fil-A kickoff game this Saturday at 3:30 in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, perhaps the first victim of Alabama's revenge tour of destruction.
"No question that Alabama football, the way the entire state thinks about it, changes what your passion level is for college football," Cutcliffe said. "I think [Alabama is] probably the most talented team top to bottom in the country, that's what I honestly think."
Without question, most Alabama fans are excited to see what 2018 Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa has in store for the Crimson Tide this year. Tagovailoa finished last season with a school record 3,966 passing yards, 43 touchdowns and just six interceptions. This was all accomplished despite Saban's slight indecisiveness at the beginning of the season to choose a primary quarterback, with a more-than-capable Jalen Hurts sitting on the bench. Absence of uncertainty, combined with the fact that Tagovailoa is more mature physically and mentally, could mean that the Ewa Beach, Hawaii native is destined for greatness once again, but at a higher level than before.
His first test will be against arguably Duke's strongest unit, its secondary. It's hard to say that Tagovailoa had any bad games as an individual last season, but his performances against Georgia and Clemson were slightly less fantastic than usual. In these games, good pressure from opposing defensive lines and tight coverage on Alabama receivers caused Tagovailoa to struggle a bit and make a couple of mental errors on the field. Because Alabama's offensive line is somewhat weak this season, Duke has the opportunity to try and replicate those schemes, especially with the talent it has at the defensive back and defensive line positions.
"You take your team and you work as hard as you can on August second on what you believe your strengths are, and you have to go about developing and building those," Cutcliffe said. "That's why games of this magnitude are good for your program, good for your team."
Alabama's steepest hurdles will come from something the team is used to by now—losing players to the draft. Two big departures came from the Crimson Tide's offensive front in tackle Jonah Williams and center Ross Pierschbacher. This lack of protection may cause issues for the development of Tagovailoa against Duke pass rushers Victor Dikumeje, Drew Jordan and Derrick Tangelo. However, if Duke's secondary can't keep up with All-American and human highlight reel Jerry Jeudy, who notched 1,315 receiving yards last year, or Henry Rugs III who earned 11 touchdowns, then Alabama's offensive line problems may not be much of an issue.
Alabama's defensive leader, linebacker Dylan Moses, recently tore his ACL, meaning that he won't play against Duke, or at all this season. Moses led his team in total tackles with 86 last year, giving him a spot on the second-team All-America squad. His unfortunate injury leaves redshirt senior Anfernee Jennings as the shot caller on the defensive side of the ball for the Crimson Tide. Alabama's defense should still be in pretty good shape, however, as it still boasts Xavier McKinney to headline its secondary and Raekwon Davis to front its defensive line to make things hard on Duke quarterback Quentin Harris.
All in all, the Crimson Tide seem to have what it takes to go all the way this year, and they will get to show their strengths, and, if Cutcliffe and his staff is successful, maybe some of their weaknesses, against Duke this Saturday.
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