TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — At the midpoint of the season, Alabama stands undefeated, ranked No. 1, and everyone’s favorite to repeat as national champion. Every indication is that the Crimson Tide have lost no ground, despite struggling to put together a complete game this season. With No. 9 Tennessee and No. 6 Texas A&M to play in the next two weeks, Alabama is in the middle of the most crucial stretch of its season. We take a look at the plays that got it to this point:
1. Jalen Hurts’ first touchdown
The Jalen Hurts era got off to an inauspicious start, with the freshman from Houston fumbling on his first snap after misplaying a read option. For much of the first half in the season opener against USC, an inept offense had allowed USC to preserve a 3-0 lead. While some have pointed to the Crimson Tide’s response to an assault to Minkah Fitzpatrick’s reproductive health as the factor that turned the tide, Alabama’s victory has much more to do with its true freshman quarterback settling down and playing to his ability. This 39-yard bomb to ArDarius Stewart signaled that quarterback wouldn’t be the problem position many had feared.
2. Eddie Jackson’s punt return against Ole Miss
Jackson’s 86-yard punt return touchdown cut the Rebels’ lead to seven just before halftime. It was the Crimson Tide’s second score in 65 seconds and put the Crimson Tide in feasible comeback position on the road in Oxford, which it would take advantage with …
3. DaRon Payne’s scoop-and-score
— Scott Kennedy (@ScoutKennedy) September 17, 2016
Payne put an end to the Rebels’ lead for the evening. Most of the credit on this play should go to Ryan Anderson, whose strip sack gave Payne the opportunity to score. That didn’t stop Payne from bragging about it.
4. Jonathan Allen’s 75-yard scoop-and-score
Yes, three of these plays are from the Ole Miss game, but that’s because it was clearly the most important game of the season to date, full of moments on which the Crimson Tide’s season depended. Allen’s remarkable interception-turned-fumble return for a touchdown gave Alabama a 48-30 lead, which it would need to weather the Rebels’ comeback attempt. Defensive scores have been the backbone of Alabama’s undefeated record, and none as much as this. Not even …
5. Minkah Fitzpatrick’s pick-six at Arkansas
On final review, Alabama’s win over Arkansas doesn’t look that close. A 19-point win on the road against a ranked team indicates a certain level of domination, but that analysis ignores the fact that a score on this drive would have cut Alabama’s lead to two scores with 10 minutes to play. That margin would have left Alabama’s position somewhat secure but open to the kind of variance that abounds in college football. Instead, Fitzpatrick returned an ill-advised pass 107 yards for a touchdown, effectively ending the game and sending Alabama into Tennessee week at 6-0.