No. 2 Alabama begins in prove-it mode vs. Duke

Field Level Media

August 27, 2019 at 6:35 pm.

No. 2 Alabama will have something to prove when the new season begins Saturday against Duke at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

“This is an opportunity for us to establish an identity as a team,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said.

When his team was last seen in game action, it suffered a humbling 44-16 defeat to Clemson in January’s national championship game.

Duke also has something to prove in this nonconference game. The Blue Devils have made steady progress in recent years, but quarterback Daniel Jones went off to the New York Giants as the No. 6 pick in the draft after serving as a three-year starter, so there are plenty of questions for Duke to answer.

“We have known it has been sitting out there,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of this matchup.

“This is an opportunity that we have earned. It is different than just having something laid on the table and how you approach it. Everybody in this program, from senior to freshman, knows that we have earned this opportunity for a showcase ballgame.”

Alabama is accustomed to the big stage and has frequently played in Atlanta, where it will enjoy overwhelming fan support.

The stinging loss in the title game left the Crimson Tide searching for answers. Further, the margin of Alabama’s loss to Clemson was similar to that of Duke’s 2018 regular-season setback (35-6) to the Tigers.

“It’s hard to have success if everybody doesn’t do their job correctly,” Saban said this week. “That’s what we have to prove as a team.”

The Crimson Tide isn’t lacking talent or firepower. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa set the Alabama record for passing yards in a season at 3,966 yards last year. His receiving corps, led by 2018 Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, is deep, fast and could be the best in the nation.

Tagovailoa, a junior, finished second in the Heisman voting last season, but he is starting anew as well, just like the Crimson Tide.

“Every single day, you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to prove yourself,” Tagovailoa said. “It doesn’t matter if you had success on one game or 14 games.”

Duke is going with redshirt senior Quentin Harris at quarterback. He started two games last year when Jones was hurt, and otherwise was used in specialty situations.

Alabama will want to take advantage of Duke’s young offensive line that’s projected to include true freshman Jacob Monk as the starting right tackle and redshirt freshman Casey Holman at left tackle.

Saban said Cutcliffe’s long history of preparing elite quarterbacks will help the Blue Devils compensate.

“There’s lots of challenges that they present as a team,” Saban said. “The system allows them to make quick decisions and get the ball out of (the quarterback’s) hand.”

Cutcliffe is a 1976 Alabama alum. He coached against the Crimson Tide regularly as a Tennessee assistant coach and as Mississippi’s head coach.

“We know that they are a national championship type of program,” he said. “You have to become the team to match strength with strength. That is how you get better from these types of challenges. There is no weaknesses to find in Alabama; they are too well-coached and they are really gifted.”

Cutcliffe said senior linebacker Koby Quansah returned to practice this week after undergoing thumb surgery last week. His status for the game is still to be determined.