College football’s awards weekend is in full swing and the Alabama trophy case, otherwise known as the largest independent hardware store in the USA, is continuing to grow. Thursday night’s haul from Atlanta — awards for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and defensive lineman Quinnen Williams — was well-deserved.
No team finishes the regular season with no defeats and a conference championship based only on the efforts of its stars.
“What makes me so successful is my supporting cast,” Tagovailoa said. “I feel like they don’t get enough credit and I get too much.”
The big story in that vein, of course, has been quarterback Jalen Hurts, who has received national praise for his return from backup status to SEC Championship Game hero. But even having the greatest “next man up” story doesn’t encompass all the players who have quietly — at least “quietly” by the standards of playing on the most-publicized team in America — made major contributions without collecting major hardware.
Shyheim Carter may have had as much to do with Alabama’s season-long improvement in the secondary as anyone, especially after Trevon Diggs went out with a foot injury. Carter stepped into the challenging role of multi-positional cornerback/nickel and did a credible Minkah Fitzpatrick impersonation.
Even more quietly, Jared Mayden has played an important role as a part of Alabama’s dime coverage. Did you notice a change in Alabama’s pass defense from the first half of the Georgia game, with Mayden sitting out due to a targeting suspension that carried over from the Auburn game? Georgia seemed to find far fewer mismatches after halftime. There were halftime adjustments made but the defensive staff seemed to have far more flexibility when Mayden returned. He made a critical play late in the game, breaking up Jake Fromm’s long pass to Riley Ridley on the final drive.
LaBryan Ray, a five-star recruit a couple of recruiting cycles ago, has always flashed promise but he has been especially valuable as Isaiah Buggs has battled late-season injury. Ray seems to be on the trajectory to be Alabama’s next defensive line star.
Offensively, tight end Irv Smith Jr. hasn’t exactly flown under the radar but he was not nominated for the John Mackey Award so he should be included here. Yes, he dropped a wide-open deep ball from Tagovailoa on a scramble play in the SEC title game, but he has made so many big plays and caused so many headaches for defensive coordinators already taxed by Alabama’s four elusive wide receivers.
The offensive line has been solid behind standouts Jonah Williams and Ross Pierschbacher but seemed to get an adrenaline boost with the continued improved of redshirt sophomore guard Deonte Brown, whose “low center of gravity,” to use Nick Saban’s words, has made him a powerhouse in the run game.
Perhaps the toughest “next man up” call of the season went out to punter Mike Bernier. The senior walk-on, who gave up a scholarship at Eastern Illinois to be closer to his ailing mother, has not been JK Scott. No one expected that. But he has been steady in a difficult role after stepping in at midseason.
None of the above received a hefty trophy on Thursday night. But they have all played their role as supporting actors very well.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.
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