TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There’s rare air in terms of quality of play with the University of Alabama football team, and then there’s Julio Jones level, which is nothing short of elite.
Calvin Ridley started to hit Julio-type status during Alabama’s 56-0 victory Saturday over Mercer, at least statistically, and his timing couldn’t have been better. Just ask Nick Saban.
“Obviously Julio is a great player and someone we have tremendous respect for in terms of the culture of toughness that he left the receiving corps,” the coach said. “For Calvin to move into that arena is pretty special. I thought he had a really, really good day.”
Even though Ridley took an early seat with the other Crimson Tide starters, he still finished with 103 receiving yards and scored his first touchdown since Week 3 of the season, against Colorado State.
More impressive was how he did it.
On the opening drive he had catches for 25 and 12 yards as Alabama went 75 yards in 10 plays, which took 3 minutes and 33 seconds. It was Alabama’s longest possession of the game until trying to kill the clock in the fourth quarter.
He then made a dazzling play on the first play of the second quarter, a play-action combined with Ridley making a double-move that put his defender on the ground for a 66-yard touchdown.
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) November 18, 2017
“On the slant-and-go, you see the route running,” teammate Cam Sims said. That’s what makes him great.”
Overall, Ridley has made 52 receptions for 858 yards this season as Jalen Hurts’ primary target. No one else on the Crimson Tide has more than 13 receptions (Sims).
He moved past Jones on the Crimson Tide’s all-time list with 2,672 receiving yards, and tied him with his eighth 100-yard receiving game at Alabama. Amari Cooper (2012-14) is Alabama’s all-time leader with 3,463 yards, while D.J. Hall is second at 2,923.
Ridley is also third in career receiving touchdowns with 17, and has made a reception in 41 straight games.
Yet with No. 1 Alabama in the midst of another undefeated run, as it will visit Auburn next week with a spot in the SEC Championship Game on the line, the Crimson Tide offense under coordinator Brian Daboll took sort of a step back and did the equivalent of a deep breath this past week.
The aim was to get more efficient, and Alabama was obviously successful.
Hurts didn’t miss a pass, completing all 7 attempts for 180 yards and 3 touchdowns. His passer-efficiency rating of 457.4 smashed his previous career best of 232.0 against Colorado State, and the only time Mercer laid a hand on him was during one of his 2 carries for 30 yards.
That was all before being replaced by freshman Tua Tagovailoa with 11:51 left in the second quarter.
“We were good,” Saban said.
But Ridley heating up could be even better, especially considering how defenses have been selling out to stop the Alabama run, and blitzing almost non-stop in passing situations. The larger the threat of Ridley being able to burn them, along with Alabama’s ability to quickly strike with the passing game, the less aggressive they can afford to be.
Calvin Ridley’s last five games
- Arkansas 4 51
- Tennessee 8 82
- LSU 3 61
- at Miss. State 5 171
- Mercer 3 103
“I’ve just been focused,” Ridley said. “I want to win. This the hardest part of the season, and is when we need to get our wins.”
Of the 8 touchdowns Alabama scored Saturday, 6 were in the air. It’s the second-most in school history in a single game (7 against Southern Miss in 1950).
Six of the scoring drives were in less than 2 minutes.
Moreover, Tagovailoa’s 13-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Derek Kief in the fourth quarter extended Alabama’s streak of scoring in consecutive quarters to 49, dating back to last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal against Washington. It’s the longest in the NCAA since 2005.
At minimum, it’ll make defenses think twice about trying to man up on Ridley.
“The guy’s got exceptional quickness, change of direction, ability to come out of the cut, has good hands, is competitive,” Saban said. “I think he’s gotten more and more patient as a route runner and I think that’s benefitted him tremendously.
“He’s obviously been a very consistent performer at that position for us for a long time and he’s had a great year for us.”
— Alabama Athletics (@UA_Athletics) November 18, 2017