Most of the teams playing in the fall of 2020 have already kicked off and are well into their seasons. Now it is time for the SEC and the second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide to kick off their season. The Tide are looking to use this season as a revenge tour after missing the College Football Playoffs for the first time since it was established in 2014. Alabama knew they would have trouble with LSU and eventual Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow. They didn’t anticipate collapsing to the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide did not play in a major bowl for the first time since 2010. As Alabama opens 2020 at Missouri, we look at the matchups on both sides of the ball.
Alabama is projected to be back in the playoffs due to the dynamic talent on both sides of the ball. They will be led by several key members of their explosive offense and highly efficient defense, who are fully healthy. Five offensive players for Alabama have been selected as a first-team All-SEC selection. They also had three defensive players that were also selected apart from the first-team All-SEC. This Saturday, the Crimson Tide will travel to face the Missouri Tigers, who are rebuilding under a new head coach. The Tigers do not return much talent on offense but plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Some of the ranked power five programs did not start the season well with upsets. Alabama will need to start their 2020 revenge season focused and determined to avoid upsets. Missouri will be their first chance to develop their talented team.
Najee Harris to potentially start Heisman Trophy campaign
Senior running back Najee Harris will be one of the unquestioned leaders of a high-power, dynamic Tide offense this season. He was one of the most consistent offensive contributors this past season for the Crimson Tide. Harris accounted for 1,527 total offensive yards and 20 total touchdowns last season. The Tide will take on a Missouri Tigers team that was ranked 31st in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (132.8). Missouri needs to replace key NFL-caliber talent that impacted their rush defense last year in Jordan Elliott and Cale Garrett. Alabama left tackle Alex Leatherwood and center Landon Dickerson both return for their senior season and are both first-team All-SEC selections. They will help pave out solid running lanes for Harris to go through against this Tigers defense.
Harris’ role for the Crimson Tide goes beyond his ability to carry the ball. He is a potential Heisman Trophy candidate based on his previous achievements on the field for the Tide. The Crimson Tide have had two previous Heisman Trophy winners in Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015). In both cases, the two backs were leading a Tide offense with new full-time starting quarterbacks in Greg McElroy (2009) and Jake Coker (2015). In the years that they had players win the Heisman Trophy, they have also won the National Championship. Alabama will be relying on Harris to lead the offense and their new full-time starting quarterback Mac Jones.
Tide’s defense must shut down the Tigers’ run game
In a Nick Saban led team, the defense for the Crimson Tide is one of the most efficient units in the nation. They are especially stout in stopping the opposing rushing game. This past season, Alabama posted their worst production as a rush defense in the entire 12-seasons under coach Saban. Last season, the Crimson Tide was ranked 37th in the nation (seventh in the SEC) in rushing yards allowed per game (137.2). The sudden injuries to middle linebackers Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillion shortly before the season was a huge factor in the lack of dominance in stopping the run. This season, Moses returns for his senior season along with sophomore middle linebacker Christian Harris as a starter. Sophomore defensive tackle D.J. Dale, sophomore defensive end Christian Barmore, and sophomore defensive Justin Ebogibe are more experienced.
The Tigers only return four offensive starters from last year’s team that includes senior running back Larry Rountree III. Last season, Rountree rushed for 829 yards and nine touchdowns on 186 carries in a crowded backfield that included RPO quarterback Kelly Bryant. The Tigers will look to Rountree as the main source of productivity for the offense as they start a redshirt freshman with limited experience at quarterback. With the heavy talent coming back in the front seven led by Moses and Dale, the Tide should be able to close off any running lanes in-between the tackles. They will need to be alert on change of direction plays towards outside runs. This was an area that the Crimson Tide defense had concerns with last season. They can win big but they will need to go back to playing smart football once again.