ATLANTA – It was obvious from the beginning. Something was missing in the Alabama offense. Something was not clicking. It just seemed a little off.
After one quarter Alabama had amassed 90 total yards. Not bad, but not what everyone expected out of the highly prolific offense. The 27 rushing yards was what stuck out the most, or least in this case.
Then the second quarter began. In the backfield was Najee Harris, and DeVonta Smith was at receiver. Both had been suspended for one quarter for violating team rules early this week.
The impact was immediate. Harris and Smith got the ball on the Crimson Tide’s first six plays of the quarter, moving Alabama into Duke territory. Harris’ first touch, a 54-yard catch, was called back for holding, but it was clear his presence, along with Smith’s, was a boost.
The Crimson Tide got on the board in the second quarter with a touchdown pass to Miller Forristall. Alabama’s offense found its rhythm and scored again on its next possession and added another score with 11 seconds until halftime.
“We need to be able to start fast and finish strong and we’ll certainly look into it," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "But I’m sure that when we look at the film it’s going to be because of a lack of execution, whether it’s fundamental footwork or however we blocked people or didn’t block people. And you know, as the game wore on, I thought we did a little better job of that.
"I think we started out a little bit maybe trying to run the ball and then we just decided, hey, the way they're playing, we're going to have to throw the ball on first down and when we started doing that, I think those guys made a lot of plays."
Smith caught five passes for 54 yards with a score and Jerry Jeudy led the way with a career-high 10 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown.
“In the first half, we didn’t really do that well,” Jeudy said. “I was really our fault. I feel like in the second half we came out composed and executed our plays.”
After that shaky start running the ball in the first half, Alabama turned to Harris and Jerome Ford, who started in place of Harris, in the second half. Ford rebounded from a rough start and led the team with 64 rushing yards and a touchdown. Harris had 52 yards. After rushing for 42 first-half yards Alabama turned up the heat and went to work, running for 93 yards in the second half.
“I don't know really,” Duke safety Dylan Singleton said. “Alabama just made their adjustments and they came out and looked really good.”
Reach Edwin Stanton at email@example.com, 205-722-0226, or via Twitter, @edwinstantonu2