OPPONENT PREVIEW: Tall task towers over Tigers in Tuscaloosa

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The trip to Tuscaloosa would’ve been scary enough before 2018. Then Alabama added the most dynamic college quarterback in recent memory to the fold.

Bryant-Denny Stadium looks more like Dante’s “Inferno” to any team with hopes of putting up a fight, let alone winning the game.

After a 3-0 start, Missouri looked sloppy in missed opportunities against Georgia and South Carolina to open its SEC slate. The Tigers are 28-point underdogs Saturday as they look to topple the defending national champion Crimson Tide for the first win in program history against an AP No. 1 opponent.

Saying they have their work cut out for them would be akin to calling the trek up Mount Everest a moderate climb.

Most of head coach Nick Saban’s teams at Alabama have relied on the ground-and-pound style of play. That changed when quarterback Tua Tagovailoa stepped into the second half of the 2017 national title game and turned the Tide’s 13-0 halftime deficit into the program’s 17th championship.

It’s hard to pick a favorite mind-boggling statistic for the Heisman Trophy favorite from Ewa Beach, Hawaii. The sophomore has thrown 18 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He’s also averaging 249.2 passing yards per game despite being held without a fourth-quarter attempt all season.Alabama is yet to win a game by less than 22 points.

He is accurate. He makes smart decisions. He can throw to any part of the field. Oh, and he can scramble, too. Keep in mind the Tigers rank 116th in the FBS with 284.8 passing yards allowed per game,while the Crimson Tide have five different receivers with at least 309 yards.

Despite the attention Missouri will have to pay to Tagovailoa and the passing game, Alabama is still a tremendous running team. After back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, senior Damien Harris leads the way for a stacked Crimson Tide backfield. Sophomore Najee Harris forms the second half of a potent one-two punch — both Harrises are averaging at least 6.8 yards per carry.

Junior Josh Jacobs has shown a nose for the end zone with six touchdowns on his 34 rushes, while sophomore Brian Robinson Jr. has 178 yards on 40 carries. The Crimson Tide don’t set up a lot of designed runs for Tagovailoa, but he can burn a defense with his feet when needed.

Missouri probably won’t stop the Alabama offense with any semblance of consistency. There are simply too many weapons and too much depth to deal with. The Tigers’ best hope is to force some negative plays and hope they can limit the Tide enough to give the offense a chance to keep up.

Luckily for Missouri, Alabama’s secondary is its biggest weakness — and that was before starting cornerback Trevon Diggs was lost for the season with a broken foot suffered last week. It’s a young group that has struggled at times with exotic and unexpected looks. Safe to say, offensive coordinator Derek Dooley will be diving through the deepest depths of his playbook for this one.

Arkansas found success when passing to tight end Cheyenne O’Grady, hitting the junior for 48 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock will probably look to his own tight ends, redshirt sophomore Albert Okwuegbunam and senior Kendall Blanton, to help carry the passing game in the expected absence of wide receiver Emanuel Hall, who missed last week’s contest with a groin injury and will be out again Saturday.

Alabama’s rush defense, while still very strong, is not quite as good as the units of recent memory. It has allowed 4.2 yards per rush through six games, which may play into the hands of a three-headed Tigers ground attack that shredded South Carolina to the tune of 286 yards.

While the Crimson Tide is still one of the best defensive teams in the SEC, the unit is a little more vulnerable than in seasons past. And Missouri is the strongest, most balanced offense Alabama has faced by far. It will be interesting to see how the Tide responds after allowing 31 points to lowly Arkansas last week, albeit in a 34-point victory. Then again, it’s rare to see a Saban-led defense give up 30-plus points in consecutive weeks.

Matchups aside, it’s obvious the Tigers’ margin for error is slim to none. If Missouri continues to give up the unforced errors that have plagued it the last two games, this coming Saturday will be more painful than the nine circles of hell.

Supervising editor is Theo DeRosa.

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