Sour Start Weighs Heavily

I walked into Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday at about 5 p.m. Central Daylight Savings Time almost certain that the sun was going to rise in the east Sunday morning. But by the end of the first quarter of Alabama's 30-14 win over Duke, about an hour and a half later, I wasn't so sure.

Alabama led the game, 3-0, but Duke had 11 rush attempts for 82 yards and Alabama had nine carries for eight yards.

There was Alabama, holder of 12 national championships and 21 Southeastern Conference championships, being out-gained on the ground and for all intents and purposes outplayed by a team that in three of its first four games, should have been arrested for impersonating a football team.

It only got worse in the second quarter. Duke led 14-10 at halftime and running back Re'Quan Boyette had 88 rushing yards while Alabama's number one man, Kenneth Darby, had 23.

Alabama was bad offensively, and even worse on defense and special teams with Jamie Christensen blowing a chance at a 31-yard field goal as time expired in the first half after quarterback John Parker Wilson led the team into scoring position in just 32 seconds.

A few Alabama fans booed during some of the most futile moments – and it was the mildest reaction anyone could expect. This is what they paid 35 dollars a ticket to see? This is why they pay their Tide Pride donations? If you were watching the game on pay-per-view you had to ask yourself one question: Can I get a refund?

Thank goodness Alabama fans had something to cheer about. Shaun Alexander was back in Tuscaloosa watching the game and his introductions sent off more flashbulbs and elicited more applause than the rest of the game combined. And in the third quarter, DeMeco Ryans, the 2005 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Lott Trophy winner and now starting linebacker for the Houston Texans, was recognized on the field.

The doomsday scenario of Alabama falling to a team who entered the game with a dozen consecutive losses was avoided with three second-half touchdowns and a shutout performance by the defense. The stomach-churning question from Saturday remains, however: How much weight should be given to Bama's icy first 30 minutes, and how much attention should be apportioned to the salvage that was the second half?

Earlier in the week, Tide Coach Mike Shula did not want to discuss how impressive Alabama needed to be Saturday against Duke. He said only that Alabama needed to "win and improve" this week. But even by that low standard, it's clear that Alabama failed Saturday night.

After the shock of the first half has subsided there will be time to look back at some of the positives the Crimson Tide might have found in the second half – and there were some. But Saturday night seemed a more appropriate time for brooding, and thinking about what went wrong.

The final score only assured us of one thing: The sun will come up tomorrow.

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