Nick Saban fibbed. Alabama football is hardly 'a work in progress.' | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

ATLANTA – Nick Saban fibbed. Alabama’s football coach on Monday called the Crimson Tide offense “a work in progress.”

But when the curtain lifted Saturday on No. 1 Alabama’s opening attempt to defend its national title, a juggernaut emerged, not some half-finished project.

Some names and faces have changed, but Alabama remains on college football’s throne.

That became clear throughout the Crimson Tide’s 44-13 pulverization of No. 16 Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

I expected this type of performance from a defense that is loaded, even by Alabama standards. More notable was how the Crimson Tide’s offense cruised after replacing five first-round NFL Draft picks.

Saban emerged "very encouraged" by the offense's performance.

Alabama’s 2020 national championship squad was one of the best teams in college football history.

This team might be better.

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Alabama (1-0) will face tougher opponents, but Miami (0-1) is not the pushover it appeared to be Saturday. The Hurricanes returned 19 starters from a team that finished 8-3 last season.

But you can't claim surprise from the lopsided outcome, either.

This is what we've come to expect from Alabama, which improved to 15-0 in Week 1 games during the Saban era. Each of those victories have come by double digits, and this is now Saban’s seventh victory over a ranked opponent in an Alabama opener.

Quarterback Bryce Young didn’t display any jitters in his first career start.

Young is Alabama’s most mobile quarterback since Jalen Hurts, and he’s equipped with a different playing style than predecessor Mac Jones, a skilled pocket passer who displayed excellent accuracy, timing and ball placement.

But there’s more than one type of quarterback who can lead Alabama to greatness, and Young looks the part of a winner.

Young is a pass-first quarterback, but he’s nimble and shifty. He made Miami safety Bubba Bolden look foolish when he sidestepped Bolden’s attempt to sack him.

Alabama’s first touchdown came when Young rolled right out of the pocket and found John Metchie III cutting across the field for a 37-yard touchdown.

It felt like a symbolic passing of the torch from yesterday’s heroes, Jones and DeVonta Smith, to today’s stars, Young and Metchie.

Young didn’t limit himself to traditional throws. On one third-down play, he scrambled from the pocket before flicking a shovel pass to Jase McClellan for a first down in a deliciously clever display.

Ain’t a thing wrong with Young’s passing ability from the pocket, either.

He has a quick release, and he showed he can throw a deep ball, hitting Jameson Williams in stride for a 94-yard touchdown during which Williams showed his elite speed.

Williams transferred to Alabama from Ohio State in May, and he’ll terrorize SEC opponents all fall, a byproduct of the new NCAA rule that grants first-time transfers immediate eligibility.

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Young has so many options at his disposal that he even threw two touchdown passes to tight end Cameron Latu, a former linebacker.

But to focus on Young and the offense is to overlook the most impressive part of this Alabama team: its defense.

Alabama’s linebacking corps is the best in the nation, as Miami can now attest.

Will Anderson Jr. showed he was just scratching the surface when he racked up 52 tackles last season as a freshman. He blossomed into an absolute menace Saturday.

Anderson extinguished any thought that Miami might make a game of this when he stuffed D’Eriq King a yard short of the end zone on fourth down, a deflating end to Miami’s opening second-half drive.

This is Alabama’s best collection of defensive talent since it won the national championship during the 2017 season behind the nation’s best defense.

If there's cause for concern, it's that linebackers Christopher Allen and Henry To’o To’o exited with injuries. Saban said Allen might be out for the season after a "significant foot injury."

This wasn’t a perfect performance. Alabama had one turnover and was fortunate it didn’t have two. The offensive line held up fine, but didn't dominate. 

But even Alabama can’t be expected to perform at its top rung in September.

With polish, this Alabama team can be as good as it was in 2020, and perhaps better.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.