Alabama Special Teams Were Exactly That Against Louisiana-Monroe
The Alabama Crimson Tide, to no one's surprise, dominated the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks at home on Saturday. Alabama got fine performances out of all three phases of its football team after a challenging road game in Austin last week.
However, one phase of the game truly lived up to its name as the special teams excelled on an almost perfect day in Tuscaloosa.
"Obviously if you get 262 yards, blocked punt, score touchdowns, that's pretty good stuff. To this point in the season, and I challenged the players this week on that, we had not made one explosive play or significant play in the game on special teams. We didn't do anything in the game that really hurt us, but we weren't making special teams an advantage to us," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
So, I kind of challenged the players that we need to do a better job of executing because it really comes down to that. Because every time you don't have a play or you get a punt blocked somebody doesn't block the right or somebody didn't do the right thing on the punt return, didn't clamp the right guy, didn't double the right guy, so today the execution was a lot better and we were able to take advantage of it."
The Crimson Tide scored its first two special teams touchdowns of the season on Saturday, both via the punt return team. Alabama receiver Ja'Corey Brooks burst through the Louisiana-Monroe protection with 8:57 left in the first quarter and safety Malachi Moore quickly scooped the live ball and walked into the endzone.
Ironically it was Brooks who did the dirty work the last time the Crimson Tide blocked a punt for a touchdown also. In 2021 against Texas A&M King Mwikuta fell on a Brooks block in the endzone for a score.
The impact of the often forgotten phase didn't stop there as Alabama threatened to score throughout the game on each punt and kickoff return.
Jahmyr Gibbs took his only kickoff 57 yards after the Warhawks only touchdown of the day, setting the offense up with a short field to respond to their score.
Four athletes took turns returning punts and were extremely explosive. Kool-Aid McKinstry took the lion's share of the work hauling in five punts for 136 yards with a long of 44 yards. Ja'Corey Brooks and Isaiah Bond also had returns for 21 and 34 yards respectively but it was Brian Branch who finally got into the endzone. Branch took his only opportunity 68 yards for a house call.
"Special teams brings a lot to the game. We don't look at specials teams any different than offense and defense and we also understand the energy that comes to special teams leads to offense and defense," said McKinstry.
Collectively the group set a program record by recording 262 punt return yards and set up the offense all afternoon long with short fields, the Alabama offense averaged starting each drive from its 40-yard line. The supreme effort broke a single game record that had been in place since 1947
The Crimson Tide didn't attempt a single field goal in the game today but the hero of the Texas game, Will Reichard was still his rock-steady self converting on all nine of his extra points.
Lastly, punter, James Burnip played well in his limited role. He boomed both his punts to pin Louisiana-Monroe into its own end. He averaged 42 yards per punt and downed one punt on the 10-yard line due to well struck hang-time.
On a day in which the Crimson Tide could have taken it easy and still won with ease, Alabama proved it was supremely focused on the "church of now" by taking each phase of the game seriously and making the special teams truly special.