USM’s speed to test Tide defense and special teams


CW / Hannah Saad

For one of the only times in his career, Alabama sophomore Jaylen Waddle, the team’s explosive punt returner, might have met his match.

Southern Miss redshirt sophomore Jaylond Adams, who was a Parade All-American his senior year of high school, is the only player in the Football Bowl Subdivision with two kickoffs returned for touchdowns. He has returned five kickoffs for 237 yards – a 47.4 average that ranks No. 1 in the FBS. 

Adams also had an 80-yard punt return touchdown in the season opener against Alcorn State that went viral on Twitter. Adams’ speed made the other 21 Division I athletes on the field look like they were moving in slow motion.

Adams, who went to high school in Adamsville, Alabama, even got the rare unprompted mention from Alabama coach Nick Saban in his Monday afternoon press conference though the coach called him “No. 2,” referring to his jersey number.

“This is one of the most explosive teams that we’ve played on special teams,” Saban said. “This is not a time for us to be thinking that we don’t have to prepare well and work to focus on the things that we need to do to play well.”

Adams’ 100-yard kickoff return last week against Troy helped him amass 322 all-purpose yards, adding onto his 11 catches for 180 yards.

Fellow Alabama native Terrance “Quez” Watkins, who is from Athens, Alabama, missed the first two games of this season, before breaking out last week with two touchdowns and 209 yards on seven catches. Adams and Watkins totaled a combined 531 all-purpose yards against Troy.

“They’ve got good skill players, they’ve got a good scheme,” Saban said. “They dish the ball all over the perimeter and make you play in space all the time, which we need to do a good job of.”

USM quarterback Jack Abraham set a school record with 17 straight completions last week and threw for 463 yards. He has thrown for the seventh-most yards in the FBS, one slot below Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

With as many as four freshmen slated to start on Alabama’s defense, it’s not an ideal time for the 12th-ranked passing offense in the FBS to come to town.

“It’s just repetition,” senior cornerback Trevon Diggs said. “Over time you’ll get it, and I’m not worried about that at all. They’re going to get it. … If you see something, someone’s not where they’re supposed to be, just tell them.”

Saban said on Wednesday night that he is not pleased with the team’s tackling over the last two games. He used the term “wad ball” to describe a more traditional, run-up-the-middle style of offense, a style that is becoming rare in modern college football.

Teams like Southern Miss that spread their receivers out are forcing defenses to cover wider areas of the field, hoping to take advantage of a defender being out of position. Saban said the coaches have emphasized tackling in open space this week.

“Now there’s a lot more space plays to be made in a game, whether it’s bubbles, RPOs, balls on the perimeter, rocket sweeps, broom sweeps, all the different kind of things that people do now,” Saban said. “That’s all harder to tackle the guy than when they run up the middle and you’ve got 11 guys in a wad with leverage on the ball.”