Johnson: Apologies for Ever Doubting Alabama’s Secondary

Johnson: Apologies for Ever Doubting Alabama’s Secondary article feature image

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Xavier McKinney

  • Mike Johnson expected tons of points in the Alabama-Ole Miss game, and got them — but only from the Tide.
  • He'd like to formally apologize for doubting Alabama's young secondary, which was excellent against a vaunted Rebels passing attack.

Three weeks into the college football season, and it’s already time for the first stop on the Mike Johnson Apology Tour. No, I won’t be apologizing to the good folks that read my game preview last week and listened to my advice on how to bet the Alabama-Ole Miss game.

Although I did take my first loss of the season on an Alabama game, I’ll call it a bad beat rather than say I was completely wrong by taking over 71 points, since the 56 points at halftime put us in good shape.

Instead, the apologies I will be handing out this week are going straight to some guys wearing crimson jerseys. If your name is Deionte Thompson or Saivion Smith or Xavier McKinney, I am sorry. Trevon Diggs and Patrick Surtain, I doubted you too. Shyheim Carter, you can come on down as well.

We all knew Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa would be unstoppable (he was) and the Tide’s ground game would thrive behind a powerful line (it did).

What I did not expect, however, is just how dominant the new Bama secondary would be.

“This Ole Miss offense will score some points,” I said. After all, how could anyone expect a group of guys to come together that quickly to replace three of four starters — and even more on the two-deep — and ask them to cover a whole squadron of wide receivers who will be playing on Sundays?

Minkah Fitzpatrick out, McKinney in. Ronnie Harrison out, Thompson in. And the list goes on and on.

What I did expect to see Saturday was a passing attack lead by Rebels quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and receivers D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown to at least make this game interesting at some point. They did — but it lasted about 15 seconds.

Give Ta’amu and Metcalf credit. They shot their shot on the first play from scrimmage, connecting on a 75-yard touchdown before most fans even found their seats. Smith missed with his hands at the line of scrimmage, allowing Metcalf to get a free release down the field.

When safety McKinney stepped up to help defend the slot receiver, there was nothing left to stop Metcalf from reaching pay dirt. That play resulted in 75 receiving yards. Ole Miss had only 58 more.

Give Nick Saban credit. He quickly made a switch regarding how and who would be defending Metcalf. True freshman Surtain II, a “bigger body” according to Saban, and the son of ex-NFL star Patrick Surtain, was brought in to match up against Metcalf with more length. That’s how versatile this back unit can be — it’s got a guy for everything.

This was a simple game plan by Alabama. Saban, defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi and Co. used a combination of press coverages on the outside while mixing in man-to-man and pattern-matching zone schemes against the slot receivers.

Once it became apparent that Bama would not be getting beat over the top again, Ole Miss turned to a series of comeback routes, resulting in a number of first downs scattered throughout the first and second quarter. It also resulted in a number of interception opportunities and more stress on the Ole Miss offensive line to block for longer-developing routes.

This may be where I need to mention Christian Miller and Quinnen Williams, both of whom looked nearly unblockable at times against an Ole Miss front that was more outmatched than even the most optimistic Bama fans thought they would be.

Linebackers Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses, you belong on the apology list, too. Defending the middle of the field against an offense loaded with NFL talent was no easy task, but you definitely made it look that way.

How dare I suggest this Ole Miss offense would have sustained success against this defense. Have I not learned anything from my time watching Saban develop the likes of Mark Barron, Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson?

All-Americans and first-round draft picks have littered this Bama defensive backfield for years. Why did I think 2018 would be any different? I should have known better.

I know what you’re thinking, and I agree. The story for the 2018 Alabama secondary and defense is far from finished. There will be tougher tests, and even more elite offensive talent headed its way throughout the remainder of the SEC schedule.

But Chapter 3 of the 2018 Bama Book was a good one, and I for one will not be doubting this Tide secondary again anytime soon.