This week’s On the Beat features the Tribune’s Eric Blum speaking with Brett Hudson of the Tuscaloosa News, part of the USA Today Network.
Hudson is in his second season covering Alabama football after spending time on the Mississippi State beat, covering one season each of Dan Mullen and Joe Moorhead at the Bulldogs’ helm. Hudson also covered two College World Series teams at MSU.
Hudson, also the father of 7-month-old twin girls, breaks down a path for the Tigers to contend against the Crimson Tide, what stands out about Najee Harris among Alabama’s long legacy of successful running backs and more.
The full interview can be heard in this week’s edition of the Tribune’s Mizzou Sports Podcast. The conversation has been slightly edited for clarity and length.
Eric Blum: What is it like covering Alabama football and Nick Saban?
Brett Hudson: "You don't get a lot of information from Saban, first of all, or Alabama in general. Assistant coaches are a no-go excluding one, maybe two, press conferences with the coordinators in a calendar year. Players are severely limited and so are support staff and all those other people. Freshmen are off limits, too."
EB: How does this year’s Alabama team look on paper?
BH: "I think it's going to be a little bit of an identity change but one that's probably familiar for Alabama. When they've had Tua Tagovailoa and the ridiculous wide receiver talent the last couple of years – Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Tua – all went in the first round of the NFL Draft last year. They've been a little more pass-first or at least more pass-forward than they have been traditionally under Saban, because not being pass-forward with that amount of talent is borderline coaching malpractice when it comes to using the talent you have at your disposal. ... Now, they return four of their five starters on the offensive line from last year, a unit that was really good last year. They're going to be even better this year. I think they're going to have the best offensive line in the country. This year they return running back Najee Harris, who ran for 1,200 yards last year. And unfortunately, the shortened season is probably going to keep him from that."
EB: How do you think Harris compares to other Alabama running backs who’ve had a lot of success in the past such as Derrick Henry, Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram?
BH: "He has had an interesting career here. He was a huge five-star prospect in his recruiting class, one of the best recruits in the country that year out of Antioch, California. He came across the nation to come down to Alabama. He didn't really make a big impact as a freshman because, as you mentioned, Alabama is preposterously talented at running back all of the time. So it's hard for anyone to break through and make an impact, but especially for a freshman, to do that. So he kind of had to wait his turn. And he got the lion's share of the carries last year. He got over 200 carries last year, which is little atypical for Alabama. The Derrick Henry Heisman Trophy year notwithstanding, where he got like 300-and-something carries, having one guy getting over 200 is a little atypical for Alabama. But clearly, they trust Najee Harris to take on that type of workload and he set the school record for single-season receiving touchdowns by a running back last year. He had seven receiving touchdowns. So he's a well-rounded threat."
EB: Alabama enters the game as a four-touchdown favorite over Missouri. Do you see a path for the Tigers to contend with the Crimson Tide?
BH: "The answer is there’s no path to win. To keep it a lot closer than a lot of people think, it would be Alabama is replacing three starters in the secondary. The one they have coming back is Patrick Surtain II. They have a dime safety Jordan Battle, who is elevating himself to an every-down safety roll. So they're not entirely green in the secondary, but they're going to have a new corner, most likely Josh Jobe, a talented corner who did get a start in the Citrus Bowl. So he has a little bit of experience under his belt. When you look at the nickel and dime guys, they’re likely to be two freshmen. ... So if you're going to try to put up enough points on Alabama to make them really work for this win, and in Columbia, I think you would. You would hope that you can pick on the freshmen in the secondary and maybe to a lesser extent to the deep safeties."
EB: Would you pick Alabama to cover the spread?
BH: "I'm terrible at against-the-spread picks, but I'm forced to do them anyway. So I did pick Alabama to cover in this game. I'm kind of curious why the line is as low as it is. That 27-ish-point line that I saw on BetMGM last time I checked it on Wednesday morning, I'm kind of curious why it's that low since the talent gap between the two programs is just so glaring at the moment? It's that way with most of college football, that's not a shot at Missouri. It's just a statement of reality in college football these days. I'm wondering if that's a little bit of skepticism for Alabama's new offense. Mac Jones is kind of an unknown commodity, if not viewed a little skeptically by some people, his own fan base included. I wish I could get an oddsmaker on the phone to know what it was that they then put that line there. But I do think Alabama will cover that number."
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