Pregame analysis of Alabama's home opener against Arkansas State:
What: Arkansas State Red Wolves (1-0) at Alabama Crimson Tide (0-0)
When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Central time
Rankings: Alabama is No. 1 in the Associated Press and coaches rankings. Arkansas State is not ranked in either.
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa
Line: Alabama by 36½
TV/radio: ESPN2: ABC; radio: WHMA-FM 95.5 (Anniston).
1. Tua time: It’s official: Talented sophomore Tua Tagovailoa is Alabama’s starting quarterback after the former five-star prospect dazzled with a pair of touchdown passes and another on the ground in Saturday’s 51-14 win over Louisville. It’s a reality many Crimson Tide fans expected since he threw the infamous “second-and-26” touchdown pass to claim Alabama’s most recent national championship in January. Tagovailoa distributed the ball to the Tide’s wide array of offensive talent and should only get better moving forward.
2. Justice of the peace: Arkansas State senior quarterback Justice Hansen produced a school-record performance when he threw for six touchdowns last Saturday against Southeast Missouri. The showing earned him Sun Belt Conference offensive player of the week, as the six scores tied for second-most in conference history and was the most by any player in the nation so far this season. Even against Alabama’s inexperienced secondary, it’s unlikely Hansen will have nearly the same sort of success inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Still, his play last week shows what the Oklahoma native is capable of producing.
3. Running into a brick wall: Alabama is the first team in FBS history to lead the nation in run defense in three straight seasons (2015-17) and could add to that total after effectively shutting down Louisville’s ground game Saturday. The Tide defensive front seven limited the Cardinals to just 16 total rushing yards in a game that appeared lost from the opening kick. Expect more tough sledding for an Arkansas State ground game that managed just 179 total rushing yards last week against Southeast Missouri State.
4. Back(up) Hurts: While Tagovailoa continued to shine when given the opportunity, the man he replaced as starting quarterback continued to struggle moving the ball with any consistency through the air. Jalen Hurts completed just 5 of 9 passes for 70 yards in limited action against Louisville, including guiding back-to-back three-and-out series in the first half last Saturday. Tide head coach Nick Saban said the team hoped to utilize Hurts’ “skillset” however it could to benefit the team, yet failed to define a specific role moving forward. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s used in a game Alabama should control from the start, especially in light of the NCAA’s new four-game redshirt rule.
Alabama linebackers vs. Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen: Alabama middle linebackers Dylan Moses and Lyndell "Mack" Wilson made their first career starts alongside one another and there were some obvious growing pains. That includes a couple of clear defensive busts that Wilson admitted had him confused at times about what to do. Of course, some of that comes with experience and simply learning what to do in those situations in the future. Still, against a quarterback like Hansen that threw for 423 yards and a school-record six touchdowns last week against SEMO, and a still-learning secondary on the back end, it’ll be Moses’ and Wilson’s responsibility to get Alabama’s defense into the right position to slow the Red Wolves’ quarterback down.
Player of the week
Najee Harris, running back, So., 6-2, 230: Limited throughout much of the preseason, Harris could be in line for a breakout performance. He likely will get to work with the first- and second-team offense in a game in which Alabama is sure to put up some points. Harris appeared to struggle some last week, finishing with 30 rushing yards on a team-high eight carries to average just 3.8 yards an attempt. Given the opposition, Alabama will try to establish its first-team offense early against Arkansas State before moving on and letting the backups get in on the action once the Crimson Tide are comfortably ahead. Given how liberally Alabama uses its running backs, Harris could see work with both lineups and is certainly an option to make a big play working alongside quarterback roommate Tagovailoa, the Tide’s newly named starting QB.
By the numbers
2: The number of non-offensive touchdowns Alabama scored in Saturday’s season-opening victory over Louisville, in one game tying the total number of non-offensive touchdowns from all of last season.
6: The school-record number of touchdowns Hansen threw as part of a 423-yard passing performance in last Saturday’s 48-21 win over Southeast Missouri.
20: The total number of Alabama players that saw their first action with the Crimson Tide on Saturday, including 11 who made their first career start. Among the Tide first-time players to see action Saturday included 10 true freshmen, seven second-year players and former transfers in kicker Austin Jones, defensive tackle Tevita Musika and cornerback Saivion Smith.
74: The number of consecutive victories Alabama has compiled over unranked teams under Saban — the longest such streak in NCAA history. The Tide’s last loss to an unranked opponent came in the final game of the 2007 season — Saban’s first in Tuscaloosa — a 17-10 loss to rival Auburn.
Alabama’s big-play offensive potential was on full display early last Saturday evening when Tagovailoa came out firing in leading the Tide to touchdown-scoring drives on three of its first four offensive series against Louisville. Expect more of the same as Alabama’s first-team offense utilizes its many weapons to attack its opposition early and often and establish some momentum leading into next weekend’s SEC opener at Ole Miss. While Louisville was not an elite defense by any means, the fact that the Tide put up 51 points and more than 500 yards of offense against the ACC contender should spell doom for an Arkansas State defense that allowed 21 points and 285 yards to Southeast Missouri last week. Don’t be surprised if this is another snoozer that is essentially decided in the first half.
Alabama 61, Arkansas State 21