One of the three crucial questions facing Alabama in 2022 was the cornerback rotation; specifically, who would be opposite Kool Aid McKinistry. Four players were vying for two spots, and after an entire Fall Camp and a third of a season, the coaching staff went with RS Freshman, Terrion Arnold.
It’s safe to say, however, that Saturday would be the first true test of the season for Arnold, as he was matched against Freshman 5-star WR, Evan Stewart. Stewart is a tough matchup for almost anyone in one-on-one coverage. He was the No. 2 WR in this class for a reason: he’s a Smitty clone — a six-foot track champion with soft hands and good breaks into and out of his routes.
Coming into the game, Arnold had been fantastic in preventing explosive passing plays this season. He and Kool Aid both have been: The Tide is 10th in explosive plays allowed on the season. Alabama is second in opponent pass efficiency defense; first in per-play efficiency defense; first in explosive drive efficiency and first in explosive play efficiency.
But Saturday was going to be the test, as Jimbo schemed to keep the ball away from McKinstry and instead tried to attack the smaller Arnold (6’, 188).
How did Arnold do? He passed with flying colors.
- Evan Stewart was targeted 17 times on the game — four other wide receivers saw just 16 passes their way. In total, an unreal 24% of all of Texas A&M’s plays on the night were designed to attack Arnold.
- Of those 17 targets, Stewart made completions on fewer than half of them: 8 of 17 for 104 yards (11.3 YPC, 1.3 yards below his season average per catch).
- Stewart had one explosive catch for 43 yards, and another for 21 yards.
- Meanwhile, Arnold was credited for a pass defended, a pass breakup, and an interception.
- In those 12 other throws, Arnold allowed just 40 yards, and notched 8 tackles: four of them solo.
- In all coverage throws, Arnold allowed a meager 5.7 yards every time Haynes King dropped back and looked his way. That would be the second-best individual number for any Tide defender on the night, and the best for anyone that saw more than one pass. Only Brian Branch’s 1 catch for 5 yards allowed against Preston was better than Arnold’s night.
- And, the bottom line: zero scores allowed, including what could have been the game-winner for Aggy.
It was a special night, in a way: a preview of what’s to come. These are two outstanding players that are going to plague the SEC for the next few years. Stewart is a load, and the Ags seem to now have a QB who is willing to try and get him the ball. That is a young team that is learning on the fly, and they played with nothing to lose Saturday.
In particular, Jimbo gambled that Arnold would not be up for the job — and especially, on the last play — but it did not pay off.
And now Arnold emerges as a battle-tested corner — and a confident one — after his baptism in fire. In his toughest duel of the season, when Arnold knew he was staring down the barrel all night long, when the target was on his back for four hours, he passed the test.
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