Tide rolls over the ‘Canes in season opener

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

New season, same dominance.

On a sunny Saturday in Atlanta, Alabama and Miami renewed their old, storied rivalry after 28 years. Despite not playing against each other for a long period, some things didn’t change. 

The Crimson Tide started their title defense with a win over the Hurricanes in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game, 44-13. The team extends their record at the Kickoff Game to 7-0. The team is also now 10-0 in season openers at neutral sites since 2008. 

Handling the Pressure 

After spending a year behind current New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, Bryce Young made his highly anticipated start. Young was under a lot of pressure prior to Saturday’s game. For starters, Young is following up a historic season from Jones, which included a Heisman Trophy nomination. Young is also leading the way for potential back-to-back championships for the Crimson Tide.

“Look, there is so much pressure on him,” ESPN analyst Tim Tebow said on SportsCenter on Friday. “There’s always pressure for all the quarterbacks at Alabama. Listen, there’s always pressure from all the quarterbacks at Alabama, from Brodie Croyle to Greg McElroy to Mac [Jones]. With everybody, there’s pressure. But I think there’s even more pressure on this young man. Because he was one of the top kids in the country coming out, because oh, by the way, Nick Saban came out and said he’s pretty close to seven figures [in NIL deals]— that adds a lot of pressure.” 

Young, however, maintained that the pressure came with playing for Alabama. He stated in his first media availability for the season that he is not blindsided by the pressure, nor is all the pressure on him to perform.  

Still, all eyes were on Young during his first career start under center. 

Young did not disappoint. 

If there were any doubts that Young could not handle the pressure of being the number one guy at Alabama, he silenced them with this performance. Young finished the game completing 71.1% of his passes for 344 yards, four touchdowns, one fumble lost and zero interceptions. The Hurricanes threw everything they had at Young: safety blitzes, all-out blitzes, different coverages. Young handled it all with the poise analysts and coaches have pointed out. 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban spoke highly of Young’s performance after the game. 

“I was really impressed with the poise he [Young] played with, the command he had,” Saban said to reporters in his post-game press conference.

Young looked exactly like the quarterback Alabama fans have been hearing about. In the biggest moment of his collegiate career so far, Young stepped up to the plate. 

What’s the next step for Young? To continue to have that poise for the rest of the season. 

Defense Wins Games 

There was a lot of talk coming into the game about how Alabama’s defense will be prepared for Miami quarterback D’Eriq King. King is a dual-threat signal-caller, the type of quarterback Alabama typically struggles with. However, the defense was not paying any attention to the outside noise about them. 

“We don’t listen to all that stuff,” sophomore linebacker Will Anderson Jr. stated during his media availability on Tuesday. “We just try to go out there and do our job and we just get the plays that the coaches give us and we just do it to the best of our ability and play football. We just wanna play fast and play physical.” 

The defense did just that: played fast and physical. 

Although King completed 76.7% of his passes on Saturday, there were few instances where he didn’t feel the pressure from Alabama. The Crimson Tide sacked King four times for a loss of 21 total yards. Anderson was very disruptive in the run and pass games, allowing his teammates to finish the job. The disruption caused by Alabama’s defense also forced three turnovers, two interceptions and one fumble lost. Outside of Miami’s first drive of the second half, the defense never really allowed King and the Miami offense to get into a rhythm. 

Despite all the positives on the defensive side of the ball, there were some negatives. The team lost two starters: linebackers Christopher Allen and Henry To’o To’o suffered injuries during the game. To’o To’o’s elbow injury does not sound significant, according to Saban, but Allen left Atlanta in a boot. 

“Chris Allen has a significant foot injury,” Saban said. 

Saban also added that Allen’s injury could cost him the season. Still, the team adjusted and found a way to keep Miami on their toes. 

Welcome Back, Fans

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many stadiums across the country had little to no fan attendance. This was not the case in Atlanta.

On May 20, 2021, Peach Bowl Inc. announced that both Alabama vs. Miami and Ole Miss vs. Louisville will have fans at full capacity. 

“We plan to keep all current safety measures in place to provide the safest environment possible for all our fans so that everyone can enjoy the return of college football,” said Gary Stokan, Peach Bowl, Inc. CEO and president. “We can’t wait to get back to the electric, sold-out atmosphere for our Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games. “We’re just excited for these teams and their fans that college football will be back to normal.”

71,000 students, fans and family members took the trip to Atlanta to cheer on the Crimson Tide. As expected, the crowd was rowdy. The crowd made sure to make up for any lost cheers from 2020. Alabama players and coaches were glad to have the fans back. 

“It was certainly great to play a game here with the fans,” Saban said. 

The University hopes to have full capacity at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sept. 11 against Mercer. The program has all but one person vaccinated and the student vaccination rate at UA is at 58%. Campus cases have doubled as well, but the hope is still to pack 101,821 fans into Bryant-Denny come next Saturday. 

Alabama’s home opener is on Sept. 11 against Mercer. The kickoff is at 3:00pm CST and the game will be broadcast on SEC Network.