Alabama football: That Team Down The Road awaits its dose of Joyless Murderball
Saturday’s iteration of Alabama Joyless Murderball co-starred the Kentucky Wildcats, and it honestly would have been a lot better game had the Wildcats brought their basketball team with them for a twi-night doubleheader.
We will get to that in a bit.
But about 3.8 milliseconds after the final gun sounded at what continues to feel like an eerily empty Bryant-Denny Stadium, Nick Saban and his coaching staff were starting to tune the Death Star toward what is REALLY important: That Team Down The Road.
In case you have been living under a rock for, say, the past 90 or so years, this is the start of a very special week in the Yellowhammer State. Babies born in Alabama are assigned — at birth — as either Alabama babies or That School Down The Road babies. With the appropriate amount of respect assigned to UAB, there really is no middle ground.
The annual Iron Bowl awaits the top-ranked Tide and their archrivals 159 miles to the southeast. As any coach or player on either side of the rivalry will tell you, they circle their opponent the moment the schedules come out — and while other teams line up in front of them in the weeks leading up to the Iron Bowl, there’s really only 1 game that matters in the regular season.
The 2019 version stung for Alabama on many levels, too, as Tua Tagovailoa was resting after surgery from a broken hip and Mac Jones dealt TWO pick-6s to the home team at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It didn’t help that kicker Joseph Bulovas missed a 30-yard field goal and the home team was bizarrely helped AGAIN by some voodoo officiating in the closing seconds-plus of the 1st half.
That sticks in several craws around Tuscaloosa County, you better believe. And if anyone believes Saban and Co. might take their trigger finger off the Death Star’s laser, well, perhaps you should dial up the South Alabama-Arkansas State game instead.
Alabama tuned up for the Iron Bowl in grand style, taming Kentucky to the tune of 63-3 — a final score that managed to look simultaneously lopsided and still wasn’t indicative of just how much of a beatdown it really was. Here’s an indicator that all Alabama fans instantly can relate to: backup quarterback Bryce Young was in the game and throwing touchdown passes in the 3rd quarter.
When it was mercifully over, Alabama recorded its 7th straight victory in 2020 and got out of Dodge without any significant injuries. Another would-be challenger to the throne was disassembled like your kid’s completed 2,000-piece Lego kit being dropped from the upper deck onto the Walk of Champions.
Jones was a crisp 16-of-24 for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns with 1 interception. Najee Harris tallied 110 yards of total offense and scored twice. Heck, Alabama rolled up 5 rushing TDs — with Brian Robinson Jr., Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams also finding the end zone.
Superstar receiver DeVonta Smith broke the SEC touchdown receptions record with his 9-catch, 144-yard, 2-TD effort — snapping a tie at 31 with Amari Cooper and Florida’s Chris Doering. And Young played about 18 minutes, going 2-for-2 with 53 yards and a score as Alabama racked up 509 yards of total offense.
“Smitty’s got character,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told SEC Network after the game. “He’s a great person. You couldn’t find a better team guy than him. I think he felt if he came back, he’d have a better chance to be a 1st-round Draft pick. Get a little bigger. Get a little stronger. He has certainly proven that.”
“I appreciate DeVonta for bringing my name back up,” said Doering, who played at Florida from 1992-95. “I don’t think anyone actually knew I had the touchdown record until the last couple of weeks, so I appreciate him making me famous again.”
Defensively, Alabama also tuned up to face TSDTR’s Bo Nix in impressive style, holding the Wildcats to just 120 passing yards — with Jordan Battle intercepting Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson and taking it 45 yards to the house.
Here’s the deal with this unprecedented Southeastern Conference season: For all the talk about shortened schedules, it is arguably even more difficult to win the SEC than it has been in previous years, as the league added 2 conference opponents to everyone’s schedule to make up for the lack of non-conference matchups.
That meant Alabama got Missouri as their opener in Columbia — which isn’t exactly the sternest test out there — and Kentucky at home this weekend. Those games effectively were non-conference laughers anyway, with the Crimson Tide outscoring the Tigers and Wildcats by a combined 101-21.
When the inaugural version of the 2020 College Football Playoff rankings are unveiled Tuesday, there is little question where Alabama will be ranked. By then, the Crimson Tide will be enjoying their record 125th week atop the Associated Press media poll. Alabama already re-set its own record of getting to Numero Uno in the AP poll for a record 13 years in a row.
Saturday’s win against Kentucky was also the Tide’s 30th straight against an SEC East opponent, and the program’s 96th straight against an unranked opponent, the longest stretch in FBS history.
And most importantly, of course, Alabama can now turn their full attention to That School Down The Road.