Alabama has opened most football seasons in the Nick Saban era by humbling an elite opponent.
For a second straight year, however, the first challenging foe can be found on the season's second full Saturday. The Crimson Tide produced an impressive start to Saban's 17th season in Tuscaloosa this past weekend with a 56-7 trampling of Middle Tennessee State inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, but the test Saturday night (7 on ESPN) is visiting Texas.
The Crimson Tide escaped the Longhorns 20-19 last September in Austin.
"Games like this are something that players certainly look forward to," Saban said Monday in a news conference. "Texas has a really good team and a really veteran team returning with 10 starters on offense and six on defense. They've got a really good quarterback (Quinn Ewers) who can throw the ball effectively, and they make a lot of explosive plays.
"This is a really good team all the way around, and it's going to be a good barometer for us to find out where we are as a team."
Texas opened this past Saturday with a 37-10 thumping of Rice.
It's certainly an exciting time for Alabama redshirt sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe, who has grown up 30 minutes west of Houston in Katy. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder shared Southeastern Conference offensive player of the week honors Monday with Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III, with Milroe completing 13 of 18 passes for 194 yards and having rushed seven times for 48 yards against the Blue Raiders.
Milroe became the first Alabama quarterback to amass three aerial touchdowns and two rushing scores in the same game.
"We know we have a tough matchup this week," Milroe said, "and we know the offensive staff will have a great game plan ahead of us."
Alabama became the face of neutral-site openers early in the Saban era and won 11 such matchups between 2008 and 2021. The Crimson Tide's 34-10 demolishing of Clemson at the inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in 2008 was plenty impressive, and so were the oepning routs of Michigan (41-14) in 2012, Southern California (52-6) in 2016 and Miami (44-13) two years ago.
Yet there are no neutral-site matchups on any of Alabama's future schedules.
"One of the reasons we did neutral-site games is because, from a scheduling standpoint, it was a way to get a quality opponent on the schedule early on," Saban said. "I thought that had a lot of benefit in terms of your team developing in the offseason and looking forward to that game. The Clemson game we had our second year here probably did as much as anything to sort of ignite the program, but after you do that a while and you start having success and your fans are going to playoff games and bowl games, they don't have the same significance.
"To have more quality home games for the fans to see becomes a little more important, and that in a nutshell is why we kind of transitioned."
The Crimson Tide had a home-and-home series with Penn State in 2010-11 that they swept with ease, but nothing was easy about last year's encounter with Texas that was decided on Will Reichard's 33-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining. The final score reflected the evenness of the game, with Alabama compiling 374 yards and the Longhorns 371.
"I remember it being hot," redshirt sophomore defensive back Terrion Arnold said. "My cleats were melting. Their fans did a great job of making the atmosphere really shaky. We had a lot of penalties on defense, so we have to do a better job this week of making practice tougher for ourselves.
"We need our fans this week to make it a difficult atmosphere for them."
Two starters in Alabama's secondary, senior Malachi Moore and UAB graduate transfer Jaylen Key, were injured against MTSU and are day-to-day, according to Saban.
"It's probably too early to tell what their circumstance will be," Saban said. "It will probably be a couple of days before we figure it out. I don't think either guy has long-term issues, but it will be interesting to see how they progress this week."
Sophomore receiver Emmanuel Henderson didn't dress out for the opener and remains sidelined by a hip injury.
"It's probably going to be a few more weeks before he gets back into the swing of things, but it's hard to know exactly when," Saban said. "He was having a great fall camp and was doing a great job on special teams. He had made a lot of progress at receiver, so we would love to see him back."
Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson also played at quarterback against MTSU with Buchner completing 3 of 5 attempts for 27 yards and Simpson completing his lone pass for 5 yards.
"I think both guys handled the situation well," Saban said. "They executed fairly well. I think it's a good opportunity for both of them to be able to learn from some of the things that they did and get some game experience."
Alabama is just 2-7-1 lifetime against Texas but has won the past two meetings. ... Safety Caleb Downs was named SEC co-freshman of the week Monday after leading the Crimson Tide with eight tackles, which included a tackle for loss. ... Saban on studying last year's Texas game: "I don't think you look back on a game from a psychological standpoint as much as you do a technical standpoint." ... Texas has not visited Tuscaloosa since 1902.
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].