ATLANTA >> Now that’s more like it, Alabama.
Playing for the first time since its crushing loss to Clemson in the national championship game, the second-ranked Crimson Tide overcame a sluggish start to blow out Duke 42-3 today in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
Tua Tagovailoa, a Saint Louis graduate, threw for 336 yards and four touchdowns before calling it a day late in the third quarter.
“The goal we had in this game was to try to re-establish our identity as a team in terms of the discipline that we played with, the kind of toughness and accountability, and everybody putting the team first,” coach Nick Saban said.
It didn’t quite start out like he was hoping.
Returning to the stadium where it won the Southeastern Conference title last December and the national championship two seasons ago, the Tide (1-0) was held scoreless in the first quarter — which happened only one time in 2018.
But the Blue Devils (0-1) merely delayed the inevitable.
Tagovailoa, whose brilliant sophomore season ended with a thud, completed 26 of 31 passes before giving way to backup Mac Jones with the Tide up 35-3. The left-hander spread the ball all over the field, going to his tight ends early on before turning to his dynamic receiving corps.
“Tua played really well,” Saban said. “He usually plays well when he’s patient and takes what the defense gives.”
Starting tight end Miller Forristall got the Tide going with a 27-yard catch for the first touchdown of his career. His backup, Major Tennison, also picked up his first career TD on a 1-yard toss.
Then, it was time for the wideouts to get in on the fun. DeVonta Smith hauled in an 8-yard TD pass and Jerry Jeudy broke loose for a 21-yard score.
“It was really good to go into the game and having to work to score,” said Tagovailoa, who was getting plays from new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. “Not just going out there and taking shots right away.”
Jerome Ford and Brian Robinson Jr. ran for the Tide’s other TDs.
Tagovailoa’s younger brother, Taulia, even got a chance to play late in the game. He handed off to Ford on his 37-yard touchdown.
This was just the sort of performance Tua Tagovailoa and the Tide were hoping for after the 44-16 loss to Clemson in January. Tagovailoa was thoroughly outplayed by Trevor Lawrence in the title game, on the heels of an ankle injury that knocked the Alabama star out of the SEC championship game.
“I don’t think one game re-establishes anything,” Saban said. “You’ve got to do it over time.”
The Tide finished with a staggering 512-204 edge in total yards, and Duke simply made too many mistakes to have any shot at a monumental upset.
After recovering an early fumble deep in Alabama territory, the Blue Devils couldn’t hang on to a potential touchdown pass in the back of the end zone before getting stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the 7. Duke was stopped on another fourth-down play early in the second half, basically its last hurrah, and three turnovers sealed the fate of the Atlantic Coast Conference school better known for its powerhouse men’s basketball team.
“Games like this can kind of go one of two ways,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “They can set you back, or you can get better from them. I know in my heart of hearts that our team will get better from this.”
The Alabama coach was called for a 15-yard penalty.
After an interception by Trevon Diggs in front of the Crimson Tide bench, the officials issued a sideline warning to the Tide. Saban reacted angrily and picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
“The guy intercepts the ball and everybody was jumping up and down on the sideline and we get a (warning). My reaction to that was the kids are having fun,” Saban said. “But I deserved it. I’m not making any excuses for it.”
He added, “One of the things we want to establish here is discipline, and the coach did a poor job of setting a good example of how you’re supposed to be disciplined.”
No word if the coach will have to do a few extra laps at practice next week.
GETTING THE HEAVE
At least Saban finished the game. Duke defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord was ejected in the third quarter when he stomped on Alabama lineman Landon Dickerson.
The two got into a scuffle away from the play, with both losing their helmets.
Dickerson was on the turf when Cerenord delivered the stomp in clear view of the officials. The Duke player was immediately flagged for a personal foul and thrown out of the game.
Duke: With Daniel Jones now in the NFL, the Blue Devils didn’t show much offensively against Alabama’s stellar defense. Quarterback Quentin Harris struggled as Jones’ replacement, completed 12 of 22 for 97 yards with two interceptions. The running game wasn’t much better, managing 107 yards. “
Alabama: There wasn’t much to complain about as the Tide won its eighth straight neutral-site game to begin a season. If there is one area of concern, it’s the kicking game. After beating out Joseph Bulovas for the job, freshman Will Reichard clanked a 49-yard field goal off the right upright and missed again from 48 yards.
Duke: Takes on FCS school North Carolina A&T in its home opener.
Alabama: Hosts New Mexico State in the first game of the season at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
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