A Ball-Hawking Secondary Carries Alabama Defense In 66-3 Win Over Western Carolina

Tyler Martin

TUSCALOOSA, Ala - It only took four plays from scrimmage for the Alabama defense to make its presence felt in the 66-3 win over Western Carolina on Saturday afternoon.

The Catamounts had picked up 30 yards on three plays on their opening drive to move into Crimson Tide territory, when junior safety Xavier McKinney intercepted his first of two passes from quarterback Tyrie Adams.

His second came off a deflection on the following Catamounts’ drive that he returned 81-yards for a touchdown with 5:53 remaining in the first quarter.

“I thought [Trevon] Diggs was going to get to it before me,” McKinney said. “He made a great play on it with the deflection. I am taught to run to the ball whenever it is, so I ran to the reception area and got it off the tip. I saw the grass in front of me and had to head to the end zone.”

He continued to create havoc for the Catamounts when causing a fumble on the opening drive of the second quarter. It led to a 5-yard touchdown run from junior running back Brian Robinson, Jr.

McKinney was not the only defensive back for the Crimson Tide forcing turnovers. Senior Jared Mayden added two more interceptions, both in the third quarter, on the first two Catamount drives of the second half.

“It really meant the world to me,” Mayden said of his performance in the final home game of his Crimson Tide career. “I could not name a better group of guys to go out there and do it with. Better group of guys in the secondary and defense. I could not picture a more perfect situation.”

The five turnovers that Alabama created were the most in a game involving the Crimson Tide since the Texas A&M game in 2015. 

“Five turnovers was big in terms of the score turning out the way it did,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “The turnovers led to 35 points and the offense converted on them, so that was really good.”

Overall, the defensive unit was stout against the Catamounts. The Crimson Tide held the visitors from Cullowhee, N.C. to only 67 rushing yards and 112 yards in the air. 

On third downs, the Catamounts only converted on two of their 12 opportunities.

The Crimson Tide’s front seven tallied up four sacks and five quarterback hurries, causing issues all day for both Catamount signal callers, Adams and Will Jones.

That was without defensive linemen Raekwon Davis (ankle) and freshman D.J. Dale (knee), and junior LaBryan Ray still out (foot). The starting group consisted of freshmen Christian Barmore and Byron Young and senior Tevita Muskia. 

Before Saturday, all three of them had combined for only three career starts.

“I think they did a pretty good job,” Saban said of the younger players on the defensive line. “Especially on the inside runs. I felt like we controlled the line of scrimmage pretty well, now their guys are not as big or physical as what we're going to face in the future, but I was not disappointed and I am sure the experience did them a lot of good.”

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