OXFORD, Miss. — Nick Saban watched Alabama’s punt return unit miss two big-play opportunities in the first two weeks and felt a change needed to be made.
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley held the punt return role in the opener vs. Southern Cal. Receiver/safety Trevon Diggs returned the majority of the punts in the home opener vs. Western Kentucky. Saban wanted to find a player who could handle the role permanently.
Insert senior safety Eddie Jackson. Jackson’s 85-yard punt return touchdown in Alabama’s 48-43 victory over Ole Miss on Saturday sparked the Crimson Tide’s comeback. It was the first return of Jackson’s career.
Alabama cut the deficit to 24-10 late in the second quarter on a quick scoring drive from the offense. Jackson’s score brought the Crimson Tide within one touchdown at 24-17.
“Eddie has always been a guy with great instincts and judgment,” Saban said. “He may not be as explosive as some other guys when it comes to being lights out, but he is so good at picking his way on interception returns and punt returns. … In the first two games, we had two opportunities for big returns and the returner missed them both. So, we just decided that this would be the time for him to do it. We had a lot of confidence in him, and it was a big play in the game.”
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Jackson made one cut, pointed out a block and immediately got upfield. Alabama’s blocking scheme set up perfectly, and Jackson followed them to the end zone.
No Ole Miss player appeared to get more than a finger on Jackson as he glided down the right sideline.
“It was a big momentum swing,” Jackson said. “We needed a big play, and I was able to make that. Guys got hype, and we knew we were still in the fight.”
That may have been his first score on a punt return, but Jackson frequents the end zone on defense. Jackson returned 2 of his 6 interceptions for touchdowns last season.
He’s already taken an interception back for a score this season. Jackson has a knack for finding the crease on returns and making a game-changing play.
“It was fun,” Jackson said. “They made the decision in practice this week. All credit to the front 10 guys. They did their jobs, I saw the hole and I hit it.”