Alabama wide receivers to test stout Michigan defense on New Year’s Day
By Ainslie Lee, Florida Citrus Sports
ORLANDO, Fla. — “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
At most universities, you’d be more apt to hear Aristotle’s quote in philosophy class, but at the University of Alabama, the sentiment applies on the football field, too.
When Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III all arrived in Tuscaloosa in the summer of 2017, the trio of now-junior wide receivers instantly took to each other like magnets.
“When we go out there we are going to try and just play… not only for ourselves, but for everybody,” Smith told the media during Sunday morning’s Vrbo Citrus Bowl player-coordinator press conference.
The group doesn’t stand as one of the largest wide receiver units in the country — Jeudy and Smith check in at 6-foot-1, while Ruggs stands at 6-feet even — but Smith says the lack of size is easily remedied.
“We’re one of the smaller receiver groups,” he said, “and we always try to be physical and try to play bigger than what we are.”
Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian insists physicality is far from the only thing that makes the Tide’s receiver group whole.
“Not only are they physically gifted, not only are they really great competitors, they’re tough – their football IQ is really high,” Sarkisian said Sunday. “And it all starts with guys like [Smith] and Ruggs and Jerry, but it works its way down throughout the entire group with [Jaylen] Waddle, [Tyrell] Shavers, Slade Bolden, [John] Metchie, you know, [Xavier Williams]. All these guys have started to embrace this.”
And now, three seasons after their arrival, “The Three Musketeers” — as former Alabama offensive coordinator and current Maryland head coach Mike Locksley called them — have etched their names into many of the 2020 NFL mock drafts.
Yet none of the three draft-eligible receivers have announced that they will forgo their respective senior seasons and all of them are in Orlando as the Crimson Tide prepare to take on Michigan on New Year’s Day.
“For us to have all these guys playing in the game… offensively, [they] are needed,” Sarkisian said of his group. “We’re going against a very good defense.”
On the opposite sideline, the Wolverines boast the No. 7 best defense in the country and the FBS’ No. 5 pass defense. On the year, the Wolverines allow just 6.52 passing yards per attempt and 173.8 passing yards per game.
Alabama features the third best passing offense in the country, averaging 343.5 passing yards per game to go with 46 total touchdowns through the air. And Michigan is well aware of the daunting task it’ll face on Wednesday.
“We understand the challenge that’s in front of us,” said Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, who described Alabama’s wide receiving corps as one of the ‘three to five’ top units he’d faced in his coaching career. “You know, you’re not going to beat them one way. You’re going to have to play a number of different coverages. And we’re confident in our ability to do that.”
Yes, much of the Tide’s passing stats came from the hand of the now-injured Tua Tagovailoa, however, the wide receiver corps is far from injured.
Jeudy won the 2018 Biletnikoff Award, Ruggs ran a reported 4.25 40-yard dash last March, and the ever-popular Smith hauled in 65 catches on the year for 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns.
And if you take those parts and sprinkle in the physicality, football IQ and molecular-like bonds this group possesses, you see a very dangerous whole.