ATLANTA — David Cutcliffe knows a good football team when he sees it. After all, he did go to Alabama.
On Saturday night, the Duke head coach definitely saw one.
“Alabama is not good, they're outstanding,” he said following the Crimson Tide’s dominating 42-3 victory over his team in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
It’s not that Duke played poorly, it didn’t. Alabama was just that much better. After a sluggish first quarter when the Crimson Tide seemed to struggle a little with four key players suspended and waiting for their chance to contribute, it dominated.
Led by the most prolific passing tandem in college football last season, as Tua Tagovailoa finished second for the Heisman Trophy and Jerry Jeudy won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver, the Crimson Tide outgained the Blue Devils 512-204 including 367-97 through the air.
Tagovailoa had a career-high 26 completions, on 31 attempts for a percentage of 83.9, with 336 yards and four touchdowns. He finished with a 217.5 passer rating.
Jeudy hit a career high as well with 10 receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown. His previous high was eight at LSU last season.
The Alabama defense played just about as well, yielding only a field goal. It could have given up another, if not more, after the Crimson Tide’s second possession resulted in a lost fumble at its own 23. However, Duke went for the first down on fourth-and-1 at the 7 only to be stymied.
It turned out to be the lone opportunity for the Blue Devils to have the momentum.
“I look at their offense and I didn't think we could win the game taking field goals,” Cutcliffe said. “We weren't trying to have a moral victory, we were trying to find a way to win the game.”
The rally started with a short 10-yard pass to Jeudy, and before long the Crimson Tide offense was lighting up the scoreboard. Tight end Miller Forristall caught the first touchdown, capping a 12-play, 80-yard drive, and running back Brian Robinson Jr. ran in the next one for a 14-3 halftime lead.
The more the game went on the more Alabama continued to roll. Reserve tight end Major Tennison caught the second touchdown pass — with the nation’s top tight end prospect on hand to watch the game — followed by DeVonta Smith and then Jeudy.
His was for 21 yards on a sideline play in which the receiver benefitted from a pair of blocks and he was able to launch himself into the end zone. It also came after the junior wide receiver had to briefly leave the game for a few plays after cramping up.
“When you have that connection and that energy, you can keep it going and keep it moving,” Jeudy said. We started to make plays. So once that happened, our energy and flow kept on moving.”
Jeudy’s score, capping a 90-yard drive, made the score 35-3 with 1:36 reaming in the third quarter. Alabama subsequently turned to the second-team offense, which notched the final score on a 27-yard touchdown run by the player who lost the first-quarter fumble, Jerome Ford.
Meanwhile, Duke barely crossed midfield during the second half, and gave up three turnovers. Senior cornerback Trevon Diggs was involved in two, making a fumble recovery and interception, and freshman safety Jordan Battle picked off another to seal the victory.
Alabama won everything from first downs (30-11) to third-down conversions (6 of 12 vs. 3 of 12). It also had a time of possession edge of 36:37-23:23).
“Outstanding,” Cutcliffe repeated.