COLLEGE STATION, Texas – It was a nice return for Jaylen Waddle. A nice return to his home state of Texas, and a nice return day against Texas A&M.
The receiver/punt returner came into Saturday’s matchup mostly quiet in the return game, having eight returns for 139 yards for a 17.4 average.
That all changed against the Aggies in Alabama’s 47-28 victory.
The Houston native, who told the media earlier this week a lot of the Waddle family would be in the stands at Kyle Field, had a breakout day, returning four kicks for 128 yards. That is good enough for third in school history for most single-season punt return yards in a game. Javier Arenas has the record of 153 in 2008 against Tulane.
He also had a 31-yard touchdown pass and finished with three catches for 48 yards.
Earlier this week Alabama coach Nick Saban said there would be an opportunity for Waddle to come up big in the return game with 2018 Ray Guy Award winner Braden Mann (48.4 avg.) punting for the Aggies. Mann’s deep punts gave the elusive Waddle extra room to make big plays.
“Look, people don’t kick it to us very much,” Saban said. “We went through six games last season where we got one ball that we got to return on kickoff return. They got to the point where they would never would kick the ball to Waddle. Everybody asked me about their great punter and I said it’s good for us because we’ll get some return opportunities. And we got some.”
Aggie player Leon O’Neal Jr., a member of the same recruiting class as Waddle, met with the Crimson Tide sophomore after the game and told him, “I told (Jimbo Fisher), ‘Don’t kick it to him no more, coach.”
He didn’t listen.
Waddle had punt returns of 28, 43, 15 and 42 yards to put Alabama in excellent scoring position. The Crimson Tide scored a touchdown after every A&M punt.
On offense, Waddle has been lost in the shuffle of the Crimson Tide’s ‘Big 3’ receiver trio of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith. He caught his first touchdown of the season Saturday, a 31-yarder in the first quarter.
“I’m happy for him,” said Ruggs, who had 131 kickoff return yards. “He’s been kind of quiet all season. I don’t think he had a touchdown before this game. It was good for him, especially in his home environment, and make plays.”
It was a big day overall for UA special teams with 311 total return yards and a blocked punt for a touchdown. It’s the second straight game the Crimson Tide has scored a touchdown off a blocked punt.
Reach Edwin Stanton at 205-722-0226, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @edwinstantonu2
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