TUSCALOOSA — The freight train that is No. 2 Alabama continued its domination of inferior competition with its 84th consecutive victory over non-ranked opponents with Saturday’s 62-10 rout of New Mexico State in its home opener.
A week after an uncharacteristic slow start, Alabama (2-0) was clicking from the opening whistle as junior receiver Henry Ruggs took a lateral from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa 75 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first snap from scrimmage.
It didn’t stop there as the Crimson Tide rolled up 603 total yards for its first 600-yard effort since gaining 639 total yards at Arkansas last season.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s 62-10 blowout:
1. The Alabama offensive line shuffle seems to pay big run game dividends.
After struggling on the ground against Duke, Alabama’s offensive line experienced a bit of a reshuffling as redshirt junior Landon Dickerson took over as the team’s starting center, and redshirt senior Matt Womack took his place as the starting right guard.
That gave the Crimson Tide two massive guards with 6-foot-7 and 360-pound freshman Evan Neal at left guard and the 6-7 and 325-pound Womack at right guard, providing a powerful push up the middle that eventually wore down New Mexico State’s overmatched defensive front. Combined with junior tackles Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills Jr. on the left and right sides, respectively, it was a formidable combination up front.
That extra push was just what Alabama’s beleaguered run game needed as it racked up 318 rushing yards on 32 carries for an average of 9.9 yards per carry after averaging less than 3.5 yards per carry last week. It was the Tide’s best rushing performance since a 365-yard effort in a 66-3 rout of Ole Miss in 2017.
Ruggs’ 75-yard run — which came off a backwards pass from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — started things off and true freshman Keilan Robinson’s 74-yard touchdown run with 13 seconds left in the third quarter effectively capped the explosive rushing performance Saturday.
2. Kicker Will Reichard answers prayers with a pair of long field goals.
Alabama might have its kicker as true freshman Will Reichard connected on field goals of 48- and 49-yards after missing two about the same length last week.
Reichard, who also kicked off and punted in the game, capped the Crimson Tide’s first-half effort with a 48-yard try from the right hash marks that sailed right down the center of the uprights to give Alabama a 38-0 lead on New Mexico State with 1:04 left in the second quarter.
Reichard’s second field goal came with 1:40 left in the third to cap a 4-play, 5-yard drive off a recovered fumble by sophomore cornerback Josh Jobe at the Aggies’ 36.
3. Another true freshman Jordan Battle steps up defensively.
With New Mexico State utilizing an Air Raid attack offensively, frequently working with four receivers, Alabama spent much of the day in the dime defensively.
That meant an additional defensive back was necessary, and the Crimson Tide coaches turned to true freshman safety Jordan Battle to fill that role.
Battle lined up opposite senior safety Jared Mayden as the two deep safeties with junior Xavier McKinney at Money and senior Shyheim Carter as the Money in the six-defensive back set.
Battle actually got the start giving Alabama four true freshmen starters along with nose guard D.J. Dale and inside linebackers Christian Harris and Shane Lee.
Running game: A – Everybody knew it would be a point of emphasis this week and it was. Two long touchdown runs provided about half of the 318-yard total, and it definitely was an improvement.
Passing game: A – It’s going to be hard to see this grade drop below an A this season as Alabama simply has probably the best set of receivers in the country and a quarterback that knows how to get the ball to them.
Rush defense: A – New Mexico State had 101 yards on 33 carries for a 3.1 yards average – not the stuff winning football is made of.
Pass defense: A – Alabama allowed second-half touchdown pass and a 44-yard completion. Other than that, not a bad day for the Tide.
Special teams: B - Two – yes, two – field goals from long distance. Grade is lowered one notch for a penalty on a punt return that negated a touchdown by Jaylen Waddle.
Coaching: A – As usual, Alabama had its players motivated and a good scheme to take care of an overmatched opponent.
Overall: A – It was supposed to be a blowout and it was. New Mexico State picked up its paycheck on the way out of town and Alabama go to work on some things.
— Gregg Dewalt