Welcome to Part 2 of the Countdown Q&A for the Cards Week 1 opponent the Alabama Crimson Tide. Today we get to hear from Ben Jones over at TideSports.com as he breaks down some of the questions that we’re all dying to know with only 5 days left until we do the thing, for real…
CS:Thanks for your time Ben. Appreciate the opportunity to throw a few things at you today. Let’s go ahead and get the proverbial elephant in the room out of the way first. How many tears have you shed personally in relation to the 1991 Fiesta Bowl loss to Louisville? The higher the number the more I respect your journalistic integrity.
Ben: Sounds like you’ve got the wrong man. My family is from Louisville and I mostly grew up there. In fact, I went to high school right across the street from UofL at Manual. I went to Kentucky for undergrad and covered the football program there for a few years. There’s a chance some of your more degenerate readers remember my name from that time period. It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that there are folks I grew up with reading this who had forgotten I existed since the last time they saw me in middle school or high school or whatever. In any event, I’m familiar enough with the 1991 Fiesta Bowl and some of Louisville’s other big football wins through the years.
Tricks on you, Ben. We’re ALL degenerates. The purpose of that question was actually just to expose your prior life covering UK, thus making all negative points against UofL officially invalid. Now, back to ‘Bama. Since everyone has an opinion on the topic, care to offer up your thoughts in regards to the ongoing QB battle through the fall? Sounded like Jalen wasn’t too pleased last week with the staff’s lack of interest in his feelings about the situation. Do I sense a team rift? Locker room divided? Half the team protesting the selected Week 1 starter? Please?
My sense was that Jalen’s bigger issue was with how the situation was handled as a whole. Part of that was the coaching staff, but some of it was also the media scrutiny that comes at Alabama, the interview his father did that blew up in spring, and the fact that everyone (in Tuscaloosa, it’s almost every single person) had an opinion on the quarterback position while Jalen was quiet for months on end. Saban said the team moved on from that a couple weeks ago, and we haven’t heard any more rumblings about it.
The smart money seems to be on Tua Tagovailoa winning the job eventually. That might happen before, during or after the Louisville game. Jalen is an excellent college quarterback who would start at 100+ other schools and he won’t make it an easy decision. The pair may split time early in the season, or perhaps the coaching staff will make sure Jalen has a package in the offense even if Tua wins the job. Every indication we’ve heard is that Tagovailoa (pronounced Tung-go-vy-loa) has had a strong camp and continued to throw the ball well. Don’t be surprised if both quarterbacks play, but I’d guess Tua becomes the guy somewhere along the line this season.
The QB battle may show up on the ticker at the bottom of the screen but everyone knows the offense is still going to be heavily focused on the backs. News broke last week about Najee Harris being injured during practice but it sounds as if he’ll still be available week one. Even if he can’t go should we just expect a Damien Harris run followed by a Damien Harris run, mixing in an occasional Damien Harris run?
One of my favorite Damien Harris stats is that he has fewer career carries after three seasons (327) than Derrick Henry had in his Heisman season (395). Damien has only had 15+ carries in a game three times. Alabama’s MO is to run the ball, run the ball often, but also run it with multiple players. Leaning on a single back like they did in Henry’s junior year was an aberration. Damien Harris’ strength is that he can do everything Alabama wants of its running backs; he can run with toughness, get to the second level, turn the corner, pass block, just everything.
The offensive line is probably going to be one of Alabama’s best units. Combine that with Harris, (Najee) Harris, and Alabama’s other running backs and there’s a good foundation for any offense. Junior Josh Jacobs was injured much of last season but has been healthy in fall camp. He’s a do-it-all type player who can flex out into the slot, pass block or bounce runs outside into open space. Sophomore Brian Robinson is a Tuscaloosa native who happened to be one of the country’s best running backs, but committed early and was considered a lock for Alabama so he didn’t get much attention in the recruiting process. Those four players, in some combination, should make things tough on opposing defenses.
I’ve asked some other Alabama folks this same question but I’m interested to hear what your thoughts are on the topic. What is one area on offense, defense or special teams where you feel Louisville can take advantage of what Alabama is putting on the field, if any?
Alabama still lost a ton from last year’s team, including eight defensive starters and its top six secondary players. The return game wasn’t a strong point last season and there will also be a new kicker and punter. Alabama isn’t short on talent but many of the players they’re counting on will be unproven on Sept. 1. The secondary in particular will be one area to watch. Dez Fitzpatrick’s belief that the Louisville receivers can beat Alabama’s DBs might be correct, but I’m not sure, because we haven’t really seen all of Alabama’s new DBs. In some cases, we aren’t even sure who will be playing where.
The Alabama offense looks like it will be a handful, though. There might be a gameplan out there for how to force Hurts to beat you through the air (Clemson and Georgia both did a good job of containing him, albeit with superb defenses), but Tagovailoa would make things more difficult. Preparing for season openers is challenging no matter who the opponent is. It can be harder when there’s even less material to gather on your opponent.
In addition to the statement you referenced from Dez Fitzpatrick the last week or so some other players and coaches have made some…lets call them “statements of confidence” in regards to their ability to not only compete with Alabama but to go down there and beat them outright. The line in Vegas hasn’t moved much all summer or into Fall camp holding steady at 25.5 at the time of this post, which is a BIG number to me. First, how is the Alabama fanbase in general viewing this opening week match up against the Cards, and second, how do you personally think this one plays out here in 5 days?
Most Alabama fans don’t seem quite as excited for this game as they have been for previous openers. Last year’s game against Florida State at the new stadium in Atlanta was overhyped and ultimately underdelivered. The previous year, Southern Cal looked like a tough opponent on paper, but the scoreboard read 52-6 at the end of the game. The combination of playing this game in Orlando, the perceived talent disparity, lack of Lamar Jackson, and Alabama’s history in openers (the last time Alabama lost an opener was 2001) has really sapped this game.
When I covered Florida State, Jimbo Fisher referred to season openers as “chasing ghosts.” That view makes me reluctant to sound like I’m confident in a specific outcome, but I also don’t want to shirk the question. It’s entirely possible that something really unexpected will happen. For example, in the 2016 opener, almost no one expected a true freshman quarterback to come in and demolish Southern Cal. An unexpected result for this game would be for it to be much more competitive than the four-touchdown spread, and that doesn’t seem crazy to me based on all the unknowns out there. Ultimately, it’s probably human nature for us all to place an undue emphasis on the pieces of knowledge we have instead of acknowledging what we don’t know. There’s a lot we don’t know about Alabama (and Louisville as well), but the knowledge we do have makes it hard to see Alabama losing this game.
Huge thanks to Ben Jones, a true professional, for putting up with my ridiculousness. Feel free to go check him out at TideSports.com where he and a host of others cover all thing ‘Bama related....and if you were middle school buddies and forgot he existed until today, hit him up. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.