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Bye Week Report Cards: Secondary

Deep ball down the right sideline? I don’t think so

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Alabama Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

To continue our series of grading each position, I’m going to be taking a look at the Alabama secondary. Here’s the previews for the cornerbacks and safeties that I posted back in August. There’s been a good bit of fluidity between defensive backs playing safety and cornerback for the defense this year, so we’re combining it into one piece (also coming up with titles is hard, so the less I have to do, the better. No #refunds).

The Good

The Tide secondary is allowing a 33% success rate— good for 21st in the nation— and only 4.6 yards per pass. On passing downs (i.e., third and long), the defense locks down even more, allowing only an 18% success rate, which is 11th in the nation. To round out the impressive more advanced stats, Alabama has, after half a decade of deep balls down the right sideline, finally shored up the deep ball defense, only allowing explosive passes 8.7% of the time, which is 9th in the nation.

Numbers aside (cause this ain’t a math blog, no matter how hard Balloons and I try), the secondary has played very, very well despite some hand-wringing about the Alabama defense this year. Cornerback Trevon Diggs has resumed his All-American level of play from 2018 before he broke his leg. He’s basically been invisible this entire season aside from a pick on a deep pass, which is about the best compliment a corner could receive. Meanwhile, safety/dime corner Xavier McKinney is playing at an elite level, and has cleaned up a WHOLE lot of tackles that the front 7 missed.

Sophomore corner Pat Surtain II has been mostly impressive as well. He hasn’t been targeted too much and has a couple of nice interceptions (though one got called back due to a pre-snap penalty); however, he’s also been on the wrong side of a number of jump balls down his sideline, as well as being singled out for a lack of effort in tackling a couple of times.

Jared Mayden has been the 4th full-time starter (and the only of the 4 to be a first year starter). He’s done well in pass coverage, but has had some issues with being physical enough in tackling to make the transition from cornerback to safety.

Finally, true freshman safety Jordan Battle was expected to be at least 7th in line for the Alabama, but broke into the starting lineup for nickel packages in week 2. He had some bad moments early on, but has been hitting his stride as the season has gone on, showcasing a physical and aggressive tackling that has been a bit of a breath of fresh air.

The Bad

Last year, Shyheim Carter was probably Alabama’s best cover corner out of the slot after Trevon Diggs went down with injury. The senior was named team captain and was expected to be a top-4 starter, but was suspiciously behind both Jared Mayden and Josh Jobe in the season opener. Carter has seen his playing time increase since the first game, but has had a bit of a slump in his senior season. He’s been targeted more often than many of the other guys and probably (though I don’t know official stats) has the most missed tackles on the team.

Speaking of Josh Jobe, the sophomore corner was poised to have a breakout season after filling in admirably for Saivion Smith in the National Championship last year and then following up with an impressive spring game performance. He opened the season as a starter at outside corner, but racked up a couple of penalties and got benched for “being too emotional” according to Saban. He’s still rotated in here and there, but picked up another personal foul on a late hit.


Overall, the secondary has played very well this year— the defense in the top 15-20 in pretty much every pass defense category. They aren’t quite an elite unit, but they are both experienced and talented, and have been superb at eliminating deep balls and big plays. They’ve had some issues with finishing a play with solid tackles, but their coverage has been outstanding.

Grade: B

It’s a bit of a harsh scale for a top 20 crew, but that is the Alabama standard, after all. I’d call it an improvement over the 2018 crew, but a notch below the 2016-2017 squads. Obviously, that’s my subjective opinion. Please argue it in the comments.


How do you grade the secondary?

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