The names on the back of the jerseys late in the fourth quarter told the story. They weren’t those of the Alabama starters against No. 20 Southern California, nor even the primary backups.
It was playing third-stringers and walk-ons, including the quarterback who most people thought would start, but for now at least appears to be on the outside looking in, Cooper Bateman.
It raised the question, what’s a step up from being No. 1?
Whatever it is, Alabama is it.
With just about everyone getting into the game except for offensive lineman Alphonse Taylor, who was suspended for the season opener but allowed to make the trip, Alabama was like a cross between the U.S. women’s gymnastics team at the Rio Olympics and a pack of wild animals tearing apart a carcass.
It absolutely crushed USC, 52-6. The highlight for the Trojans was the first quarter, when months of prep work helped them take a 3-0 lead. Making his first career start, quarterback Max Browne completed his first seven passes, and even led a 10-play drive.
But then Alabama starting making adjustments and that was that.
USC managed just 14 yards of total offense in the second quarter (when Alabama had 130), and 54 in the third (240). With the score 38-6, the game was so lopsided that ABC kept a camera on Crimson Tide strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran jumping around and holding up four fingers like usual in the fourth quarter, until he said a bad word.
They didn’t miss it, though, when Cochran bear-hugged offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin from behind after the Crimson Tide scored its final touchdown, completing the payback of his former employer.
Yet one person still wasn’t happy afterward.
Saban was being serious, too.
He was still upset with things like Alabama getting off to a slow start and the revamped offensive line not clicking. That’s part of his never-satisfied M.O. The coach probably wasn’t pleased with having to deal with safety Ronnie Harrison emotionally losing it on the sideline, either, but that’s something that can be dealt with back home in Tuscaloosa.
Most of the things that other teams feared about the 2016 Crimson Tide were confirmed Saturday night, including that the defense is very good, with the potential for greatness. While keeping USC out of the end zone it notched nine tackles for a loss, three sacks and seven passes broken up.
Depth is an issue at cornerback, where the Trojans targeted Anthony Averett, the small speedy cornerback who was used in obvious passing situations. It’s also a concern with both the defensive line and wide receivers, where Dalvin Tomlinson and Cam Sims suffered injuries.
Offensively, while most were wondering if Alabama would be able to find one quarterback, it turns out the team might have two and they’re both freshmen. Blake Barnett started and was replaced by Jalen Hurts in the third series, which Saban said had been planned.
Both ended up passing for 100 yards or more, although Hurts ran in two touchdowns and connected on 71- and 39-yard touchdown passes to wide receiver ArDarius Stewart. But he also had a fumble and made a freshman mistake on a pass that was intercepted by Iman Marshal. It was Alabama’s only turnover.
Meanwhile, sophomore Bo Scarbrough had been getting the most attention out of the running backs this offseason, but Damien Harris started and had 138 rushing yards on nine carries.
That may be the theme of this year’s offense, playmaker by committee, because Alabama has so many talented options that Kiffin can pick and choose like no other coordinator in football.
Calvin Ridley is covered by a potential All-American cornerback? Fine, here’s Stewart with four catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end O.J. Howard had three receptions and Gehrig Dieter caught a touchdown on his Crimson Tide debut.
Ridley had two catches for nine yards and Robert Foster was shut out, but next week it’ll probably be their turn.
As for the quarterbacks, Saban isn’t saying who might be the starter next week against Western Kentucky and then Ole Miss. But Hurts accounted for four touchdowns in his debut, two passing and two rushing.
Defensively, good luck. Alabama is small and fast, and USC still pretty much stopped trying to run the ball. Its 64 rushing yards were mostly due to a 46-yard carry by Ronald Jones II, who had zero combined yards on all of his other attempts
Did you doubt the Crimson Tide? Did you claim that the reigning national champions are finally overrated?
After all, Alabama only lost the Heisman Trophy winner, the starting quarterback and Rimington Trophy winner for best center from last year’s team. Along with them were their corresponding counterparts in the defensive interior with A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Reggie Ragland, plus cornerback Cyrus Jones and four assistant coaches.
Any doubt about Alabama being a contender again went out the window during the five-straight three-and-outs by USC, a string that was finally snapped with sophomore cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s interception that he returned for a touchdown late in the first half. It was a key part of the Crimson Tide scoring 38 unanswered points.
On a day that most of the Southeastern Conference would like to forget, Alabama recorded its second-largest win against a top-20 team since dismantling Syracuse 61-6 in the 1953 Orange Bowl, barely coming up short of the 59-0 victory over No. 21 Texas A&M two years ago.
It also came on a neutral site, and against one of the programs that’s also on the short list for best ever. The scary thing is that Alabama figures to only get better from here as the offense and defense both continue to establish their identities, and the numerous players in new roles get more comfortable and improve.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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Source: Bleacher Report -SEC Football