Jaylen Waddle proves worthy of bigger role in Alabama football's win over Missouri
Mac Jones now has two road starts under his belt, one in last year’s Iron Bowl in relief of injured Tua Tagovailoa and Saturday’s outing against Missouri as the established starting quarterback.
In both instances, he knew he could lean on Jaylen Waddle. So he did.
Waddle was the intended target on the Crimson Tide’s first offensive play, an incompletion. The next nine targets produced eight catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns, making Waddle the star performer of UA’s 38-19 victory over Missouri.
“He gets open, that’s his job, and I think he does a great job doing it,” Jones said. “We’ve had a great relationship since he stepped on campus, going back to summer 7-on-7s, getting that chemistry with him, all the late nights at the indoor (practice facility).”
As he was last year, Waddle was used in motion at times to create openings, but part of his new role as an every-down wide receiver is to be a more naturally-occurring part of the offense, one who gets the ball somewhat regularly even when plays are not designed specifically for him. Waddle did that, in addition to showing a skill he had not in the past: making plays to receive the ball, as opposed to after he receives it.
In the pass-catching portion of Waddle’s Alabama career, most of his receptions have been carefully-designed where Waddle is granted space to make the catch, and his job has been to make defenders miss after that. On the first play of UA’s third offensive possession, Waddle made a jumping catch in between two Missouri defenders: He was the recipient of hard contact from Missouri safety Tyree Gillespie, but in the process he became the lone UA player to generate a play of more than 35 yards, gaining 46 on the play.
UA has more options at wide receiver than Waddle and DeVonta Smith, who were the intended target on 22 of Alabama’s 32 pass attempts Saturday. John Metchie III, for instance, turned his two catches into 42 yards and Miller Forristall had a 34-yard reception.
As UA grooms Metchie, Forristall and others into more comfortable roles in the offense, Waddle may not be relied upon as often as he was against the Tigers.
“Obviously it’s a new group, so you have to look around and adjust to people we don’t have on our team anymore,” Jones said. “It’s the first time we’ve all put it together in a game. Obviously a little bit of a slow start, we’ll fix that, but I felt like we gelled as the game went on.”
However, the introduction of other options won’t necessarily negatively impact Waddle’s prominence. For his first two years with the Crimson Tide, Waddle was most useful in making the most of limited touches. Now, he is adding the utility of being able to create touches.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson