TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even as Alabama prepares to play Clemson for a national title in its 15th and final game of the season, the lightning-fast learning of Crimson Tide wideout Calvin Ridley still manages to impress his quarterback when he thinks about it.
“It’s pretty crazy for a true freshman to be able to do the things he’s done,” Jake Coker said while addressing the media on Wednesday.
Though he might be older than most true freshman (21), Ridley has nevertheless made opposing defenses pay time and again en route to compiling 83 catches for 1,031 yards and seven of the 20 touchdown passes Alabama has thrown. His big-play ability (averaging over 12 yards per catch) makes him especially tough to lock down. And he’s been at his deadliest in the team’s biggest games, as well, hauling in eight receptions apiece and topping 100 yards receiving in both the SEC Championship game and Thursday’s Cotton Bowl throttling of Michigan State.
Where did it all begin? Coker went back to the offense’s first 7-on-7 drill of the summer, when the 6-foot-1, 188-pound speedster was as green as they come. Even then, the senior signal-caller confided how he knew Ridley would blow SEC secondaries out of the water.
“The first 7-on-7 we had this summer I knew he was going to be a guy that could really be reliable if we had to just because of his attitude,” Coker said. “His athleticism, y’all can see that. He messed something up on the first day. There was no excuse, no nothing. Just, ‘I got you.’ And he’d do it right the next time, and that’s really all you can ask. And that’s really every great player I’ve been around has been that way. I knew he was going to be special.”
In discussing Ridley’s early playing time, most have cited the season-ending injury suffered by receiver Robert Foster against Ole Miss. But offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin thinks Ridley would have forced his way onto the field regardless.
“I think we all saw the writing on the wall,” Kiffin said. “Regardless of Robert’s injury, Calvin was going to play a bunch. He just had to get used to playing and it was just going to be a matter of time.”
How Ridley fares against a stingy Clemson secondary in Monday’s championship matchup should play a pivotal role in the game’s outcome. According to a teammate, however, the Tigers’ defensive backs will have to do several things right to keep Ridley from running free in Glendale, Ariz.
“He’s explosive. Has good releases,” defensive back Cyrus Jones said. “So you just got to be technically sound from the beginning. It all starts with good stance and good balance at the line of scrimmage. Try to get your hands on him to counter him, quick-jam him, do different things to knock off his timing. … And then staying over top of him to prevent big plays.”