INSTANT ANALYSIS: Alabama manhandles Mercer on Senior Day
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. —Alabama started early both on the clock and on the field. The Crimson Tide had little trouble handling a rare 11 a.m. CT kickoff and even less handling FCS opponent Mercer, beating the Bears 56-0 Saturday.
The game served as Senior Day for No. 1 Alabama as it was the last game the Crimson Tide will play in Bryant-Denny Stadium this season. In total, Alabama honored 25 seniors during a pregame ceremony. By the end of the afternoon, that group tied the NCAA record for most wins by a senior class with 51 wins. Alabama’s 2016 senior class also had 51 wins to go with just six losses.
This year’s senior class holds a 51-4 record and will have at least two more opportunities to set a new mark as Alabama beginning when it travels to Auburn next week for the Iron Bowl. A win over the Tigers would not only set the record but clinch a fourth straight SEC West title for the Crimson Tide and punch a ticket to the SEC Championship Game where Alabama would meet SEC East winner Georgia.
However, that’s a discussion for next week. Saturday was all about honoring the seniors — that and Alabama (11-0, 7-0 in the SEC) manhandling Mercer (5-6).
Here are some notes from the game:
The senior class represented Saturday included 14 scholarship players in Anthony Averett, Bradley Bozeman, Tony Brown, Rashaan Evans, Robert Foster, Josh Frazier, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Da’Shawn Hand, J.C. Hassenauer, Hootie Jones, Jamar King, JK Scott, Cam Sims and Levi Wallace. It also included 11 non-scholarship players in Andy Pappanastos, Hunter Bryant, Bo Grant, Joseph Harvey, Swade Hutchinson, Austin Johnson, Vohn Keith Jr., Rogria Lewis, Jacob Parker, Jonathan Rice and Turner Skehan.
That group has earned a national championship (2015) as well as three straight SEC titles and three appearances in the College Football Playoffs. If Alabama continues winning, it’s in position to add to each of those totals this year.
“This group has made a tremendous contribution to the success of the program, not only in how they’ve played and performed, but how they’ve represented the university on and off the field,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said during his Wednesday news conference earlier this week. “They’ve provided a tremendous amount of leadership for the young players.
We haven’t had a lot of issues and problems with any of these guys. They’ve really been great ambassadors for the university. They’ve had a tremendous amount of success here, won a lot of games. I can’t say enough.”
The seniors weren’t the only players to set a record Saturday. With the win, Alabama has now defeated 73 consecutive unranked teams, passing Miami (1985-95) and Florida (1990-2000) for most in FBS history. Alabama’s last loss to an unranked team came against Auburn in 2007. The current streak began with a 30-24 victory over Colorado in the 2007 Independence Bowl.
Unstoppable on offense
Alabama scored touchdowns on each of its first possessions to jump out to an early 35-0 lead. The Crimson Tide would have most likely extended that streak had freshman receiver Henry Ruggs not fumbled the ball at midfield after catching a pass from fellow freshman Tua Tagovailoa. Nevertheless, Alabama’s offense rolled up and down the field, picking up 530 yards and 22 first downs.
Starting quarterback Jalen Hurts pitched a perfect game before giving way to Tagovailoa at the end of the second quarter. The sophomore finished 7 of 7 passing for 180 yards and three touchdowns, earning a 457.4 quarterback rating. Hurts also ran for 30 yards on two carries.
Hurts’ three touchdowns on the day give him 58 for his career, moving him into a tie with John Parker Wilson (2005-08) for No. 2 on the Alabama career touchdown responsibility list. AJ McCarron (2010-13) is the UA career leader with 88. Hurts has thrown 37 career touchdown passes and rushed for 21 career scores in 26 games. The sophomore also moved into third in terms of career total offense at Alabama. Hurts now has now has 6,248 total offensive yards in his 26-game career. Wilson is second with 8,099 yards in 45 games, while McCarron is the leader with 8,969 yards in 53 games.
Hurts’ longest pass of the day came on a 66-yard touchdown to a wide-open Calvin Ridley. The junior receiver finished with three catches for 103 yards and the touchdown, marking the eighth 100-yard receiving game of his career, tying him with Julio Jones (2008-10) for third all-time at Alabama. Amari Cooper (2012-14) is the career leader with 14. Ridley tied another milestone as his touchdown marked the 17th receiving touchdon of his career, with D.J. Hall (2004-07) for third on the Alabama career touchdown receptions list.
Running back Josh Jacobs also had a big day, carrying the ball six times for 41 yards while adding two catches for 45 yards and a touchdown through the air. Earlier this week, Saban said he was going to find more ways to get the ball in Jacobs’ hands moving forward. On top off his extended role on offense Saturday, the sophomore back was also one of the returners on kick return.
Bo Scarbrough finished with a team-high 54 yards on five carries, while starter Damien Harris had six carries for 32 yards. Senior receiver Cam Sim finished with two receptions for 21 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown from Tagovailoa.
Dylan Moses impressive in first career start
Semester finals are next month, but Dylan Moses aced his first big test at Alabama on Saturday. Making his first career start, the freshman linebacker finished with a game-high 11 tackles, four of which went for a loss. He also recorded his first career interception, picking off a pass to stop a would-be scoring drive from Mercer just before the half.
Moses made the start at Mike linebacker in replacement of injured senior Shaun Dion Hamilton, who suffered a broken kneecap against LSU on Nov. 4. The former five-star recruit was all over the field and seems to be a part of every play. Heading into the game, Saban said Moses could develop into a “really good player” for Alabama once he developed the “ knowledge and experience that he needs to go out there and play with confidence.”
Saturday, Moses took the first step in showing that confidence. However, his next test should be more of a challenge as he goes up against a stout rushing attack in Auburn.
Moses wasn’t the only freshman to receive extended playing time. Due to the blowout, Alabama’s second-team unit on offense played the entire second half, giving Alabama’s young playmakers plenty of time to work.
Tagovailoa finished 7 of 11 for 85 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Najee Harris rushed for 24 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown to put Alabama up 14-0 in the first quarter. Fellow freshman back Brian Robinson rushed for 50 yards and ran in a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Tight end Major Tennison caught a 21-yard pass from Tagovailoa, while receiver Devonta Smith tallied a 10-yard reception. Ruggs had a 16-yard catch but fumbled on the play.
Minkah Fitzpatrick sits out
Minkah Fitzpatrick sat out Saturday’s contest in order to rest after he has been dealing with a hamstring injury since the game against LSU. Fitzpatrick tallied six tackles, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry last week against Mississippi State and probably could have played against Mercer if he was needed. He should be able to return next week against Auburn.
Though he is only a junior, Saturday’s game is most likely Fitzpatrick’s last inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. He is highly regarded as an early pick in next year’s NFL Draft.