Ronnie Harrison may not have had as large a role as fellow true freshman defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, but he still made an impact.
Harrison was a four star safety out of Tallahassee, the #12 recruit at his position. He enrolled early and immediately started turning heads. He was a factor on special teams and as a back-up early on before becoming the primary Money (dime) back.
4th and 3: Alabama has forced a punt and is looking to get the ball back with a sizeable chunk of time before half. Ronnie Harrison has other plans, however. He’s lined up a little to the left of the long snapper and just bee lines straight to the punt. The Blue Raiders used the bold strategy of not blocking him, and it does not pay off. The ball has barely left the punter’s foot when Harrison blocks it. Safety and a 20-point lead.
3rd and 6: Harrison is in as the Money (dime) back. A quick refresher: receivers are numbered starting outside and working inside. So Middle Tennessee has trips right. The farthest to the right is #1, the next guy is #2, and the receiver closest to the line is #3.
Harrison follows the #3 guy (WR Terry Pettis) on a shallow crossing route. Instead of passing Pettis off to Eddie Jackson, Harrison sticks with him. This leaves #80 WR Jermel Walker, who ran an even shallower crossing route the opposite direction wide open. Harrison realizes his mistake and starts getting back into position, but Walker has some room to work with. Minkah Fitzpatrick closed quickly, though, and made the tackle short of the first down. Freshman mistake by Harrison.
1st and 10: Harrison is in at safety in place of Eddie Jackson now. He sees the receiver motioning right-to-left and comes down closer to the line of scrimmage. QB Brent Stockstill tosses it to the receiver, and Harrison crashes down. He takes a great angle to set the edge and force the receiver to turn upfield. Harrison fights through the attempted cut block and makes the tackle. Great job in run support.
1st and 10: Harrison is in for Eddie Jackson, opposite Geno Matias Smith. Cyrus Jones is in coverage on WR Malcolm Mitchell and plays him close. Mitchell is in the only receiver in this area. Harrison has been watching the quarterback’s eyes and knows he doesn’t have a man to cover deep; so he’s able to jump the route, nabbing his first career interception. Nice recognition by Harrison in the waning minutes.
Here's another shot
1st and 10: TAMU has an empty backfield and five receivers wide, so Harrison is in and on the slot receiver (#11 Josh Reynolds) to the right. Reynolds runs in an route, and Harrison plays him close and physical. Too physical, unfortunately. He grabs some jersey when Reynolds tries to break back outside and gets flagged for holding. First down for the Aggies.
1st and 10: I covered this play in my Minkah Fitzpatrick article. Here’s part of that.
A&M has trips left. The farthest outside is the #1, the next guy is #2, and the receiver closest to the line is #3. Bama has Cyrus Jones, Fitzpatrick, and Ronnie Harrison on 1, 2, and 3 respectively with Eddie Jackson deep. On the right side, Bama has Humphrey on the lone WR and Geno Matias-Smith deep on that side. Ragland flows with the running back who motions left to right. It gives Bama a numbers advantage on either side, plus Harrison and Ragland are both still in the box in case there’s a run. On the left side, #1 runs a vertical route; so Jones runs with him. #2 steps forward before running back towards the line for a screen. With a receiver under him, Harrison jumps forward to take the screen away. The #3 initially slants out towards the sideline before making his cut to slant back towards the middle of the field, which is wide open with Harrison sucked in for the screen and Ragland flowing to the right with the RB. Fitzpatrick can’t get there quickly enough for the quick pass to the #3. A&M gets 15 yards and a first down. It’s a great play design by TAMU to take advantage of Bama’s scheme.
Even though the ball was never going there, Harrison does a good job of reacting to the screen.
2nd and 10: Harrison is on the slot guy to the right. He sees the run and charges in. WR Christian Kirk cuts him to the ground, but Harrison pops back up in time to help make the tackle along with A’Shawn Robinson for a minimal gain.
2nd and 5: Harrison is sent on a blitz, and A&M was not expecting it at all. There’s no running back or tight end to pick him up, and he’s just got a straight shot at QB Kyle Allen. Allen sees Harrison at the last second and steps up to try to avoid him, but Harrison grabs ahold and never lets go. He gets his first and only sack of the year.
2nd and 15: Ronnie Harrison is filling in for Eddie Jackson, who sprained his knee in the 1st quarter. Harrison and Geno Matias-Smith are back deep, and Tennessee has 11 (1 running back, 1 tight end) personnel with two receivers bunched right. The secondary smothers the routes, and QB Josh Dobbs has to scramble right. While rolling to his right, he throws to #15 Jauan Jennings in double coverage. Harrison is in front of Jennings, in perfect position. He goes up and gets the ball, but Jennings makes a good play and jars loose what should have been an interception.
Here's a second angle
1st and 10: Clemson started with decent field position for a final drive before half, and QB Deshaun Watson only needed one play to get the Tigers into Alabama territory. Clemson has four wide receivers; and Harrison is on the TE Jordan Leggett, who’s in the slot to the right. Leggett just runs a little out route and turns around. Harrison bumps him initially and plays close. Not an amazing play or anything, but he plays it correctly.
3rd and 9: Clemson has an empty backfield with five wide. Alabama is playing Cover One with only Eddie Jackson back deep; everybody else is in man coverage. Harrison is on WR Artavis Scott. No offense to Harrison, but this is a serious mismatch. Scott was a freshman All-American in 2014 and led the Tigers in receptions and receiving yards in 2015. Watson sees him covered by a safety and knows that’s his guy. Harrison is playing off. He flips his hips without losing a step and matches Scott step-for-step. Scott raises his arms; and Harrison rakes his hand in and rips the ball free, preventing a touchdown. Clemson settles for a field goal.
3rd and 6: Harrison is again on Jordan Leggett in the slot, this time to the left. Reuben Foster is playing over to the right to take away a quick slant to Hunter Renfrow, who’s been killing Bama this game. However, this leaves Harrison, who’s giving a four yard cushion to Leggett, isolated on his man. Leggett runs the quick slant, and Harrison can’t close quickly enough to break up the pass. First down Clemson
3rd and 8: Bama’s running its usual pattern-matching zone here. Jordan Leggett motions right to left, and Harrison takes a couple steps to his right. Trevion Thompson is the #1 receiver to the left, and now Leggett is #2. The #2 runs a fly route, so Cyrus Jones matches and goes deep with him. The #1 runs a crossing route and passes underneath Harrison, so he takes him. Harrison smothers the route and doesn’t lose him when the ref gets in the way. Again, nothing spectacular; but he executes perfectly.
2nd and 10: Clemson has five wide, trips right; and Harrison is in man coverage on the #3 receiver (Jordan Leggett) on the right. Leggett just runs a post route, and Harrison goes a little too far outside. Leggett gets inside of him, Watson throws a perfectly placed ball, and Clemson makes it a one possession game with a chance to get the ball back. Harrison swatted at Leggett’s hands, but it wasn’t enough.
Ronnie Harrison has the ball skills, tackling ability, and instincts to be the next great Alabama safety, provided he can play more consistently and eliminate some of those mistakes that come with freshmen and young players in Nick Saban's system.