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Southern Miss’s Biggest Threat Against Alabama

The Crimson Tide should be concerned.

NCAA Football: Rice at Southern Mississippi
Southern Miss return man Jaylond Adams has speed to burn.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

“This is one of the most explosive teams that we’ve played on special teams.”

Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban spoke about it in his Tuesday press conference. There is much to be concerned about in Southern Miss’s wide receiver Jaylond Adams. In three games so far, the redshirt sophomore has 18 receptions for 257 yards and a touchdown. Defending him as an offensive weapon will certainly be a matter to address but perhaps the bigger issue is his skills as a return man.

On five kickoff returns, he has amassed 237 yards for an FBS-leading 47.4 yards per KO return average. After returning the opening kickoff against Alcorn State for an 89 yard score, he had a repeat performance against Troy taking one back the length of the field. If you watch the game clock, it took him about 12 seconds to go goal line to goal line.

The Adamsville, AL native also returns punts for the Golden Eagles. Also against Alcorn, he took one to the house from 80 yards out. He is the only player in the nation to have returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown this season. He is also the only return man with three scores on special teams. No other player has two.

Of course Alabama is a higher-caliber opponent than Troy or Alcorn, but there could still be issues. First, Crimson Tide special teams have not had too many opportunities to provide coverage and earn some experience. Alabama has punted only seven times with three fair catches and had 21 touchbacks on 27 kickoffs. Adams is not likely to take a fair catch if he can help it.

The other concern is the erratic punting game for Alabama. The two Tide punters have averaged a lethargic 36.57 yards per punt. Against South Carolina, Skyler DeLong sent his one attempt 14 yards. In addition to the mediocre distance the punts are traveling, neither DeLong nor Will Reichard have gotten much hang time on their boots. These inconsistencies can make it difficult on coverage teams.

One way to combat the punting deficiencies could be going for fourth down conversions.

“I mean, I don’t care which guy’s punting,” Saban said this week. “The thing about both guys is they’re very capable and they do a really good job of punting in the game. We don’t have anybody else to punt besides one of those two guys or we could go for it on every fourth down, and that’s our options. So one of those two guys have to punt, or we go for it on fourth down every time. So, how do we approach it differently? We’ve got to get those guys to execute, they’re capable of executing and they’ve done a really good job of doing it in practice. We just have not seen it in the game.”

Alabama is 5-for-5 on fourth down conversion this season.