It’s been pretty clear all season that Calvin Ridley is Alabama’s No. 1 receiving option.
The Mercer Bears learned it first-hand Saturday. The Crimson Tide’s junior wideout caught only three passes, but he went for 101 yards and a touchdown before making an early exit in UA’s 56-0 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., continued his climb in the Alabama career record books. He moved into a third-place tie with D.J. Hall in touchdown receptions with his 17th, passing Ozzie Newsome; into third place in career receiving yards with 2,672, passing Julio Jones; and into a tie with Jones for third in 100-yard receiving games with his eighth.
“Calvin made a couple big plays, it’s great to see him continue to move up,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “Obviously, Julio was a great player here and somebody we have a tremendous amount of respect for in terms of the culture of toughness that he left here. For Calvin to move into that arena is pretty special.”
What Ridley did to Mercer, however, wasn’t so much special as it was routine for him. And he did it in less than two quarters of play.
He snagged a 25-yard catch on a crossing pattern downfield on Alabama’s first possession, then came back on the next play to turn a short pass into a 12-yard gain.
Two possessions later, he made his final catch of the day count. He ran a pattern parallel to the sideline, made a hard step out as quarterback Jalen Hurts pump-faked, then turned upfield and left his defender in the dust. The ball was slightly underthrown, but Ridley was able to wait for it and still race into the end zone for a 66-yard score.
What’s it like to get a defender to bite on such a route? Ridley knows: “Touchdown, you get a win. You won that rep,” he said.
Ridley made a brief visit to the sideline medical tent in the first half and didn’t return to action. Saban said afterward Alabama sustained no significant injuries.
Ridley is still improving. Teammates marvel at his work ethic.
“The little things he does when nobody’s around,” said fellow wideout Cam Sims. “He does little things, like get out to practice a little early and stays late.
“On that slant-and-go, you see that route-running. That’s what makes him great.”
He’s always had the speed. He’s learning to control it. Saban cited Ridley’s patience as one of his biggest strides.
“I’m still going fast, I get into my routes pretty quick, sometimes I get covered up, but I’ve definitely slowed down and I take my time and I know coverages better, so that helps a lot.”
Alabama’s second passing option on this day was everyone else: Five other players caught touchdown passes, and nine players in all caught at lest one pass. No one other than Ridley caught more than two balls, and he accounted for nearly 40 percent of UA’s 265 receiving yards.
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.